The Pentagon’s Slush Fund

Dec. 11, 2014, The Center for Public Integrity / Politico Magazine

In the federal budget, emergency wartime expenses are the new normal.


What does an $810 million U.S. defense “initiative” to “reassure” Europe in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land grab have to do with emergency war needs in Afghanistan and Iraq? Absolutely nothing. So why does that hefty sum appear in the military’s budget, now pending on Capitol Hill, meant to support operations in those two Middle Eastern countries?

This is not how America’s war budget—otherwise known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund—is supposed to work. The White House in 2011 said that the OCO, originally established in 2001 under a different name, was just for “temporary and emergency requirements” for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, many experts are saying that its continued use is emblematic of a five-year collapse in Washington fiscal discipline.

The OCO budget isn’t subject to spending limits that cap the base defense budget for each of the next seven years; it’s often omitted altogether from tallies of how much the military spends each year; and, as an “emergency” fund, it’s subject to much less scrutiny than the rest of what the military asks for.

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