The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which funds combat missions abroad, is exempt from discretionary spending caps. As this part of the Pentagon’s budget begins to take shape for the coming year, policymakers must resist the temptation to use the account for expenses that should be subject to the caps.
The administration has announced two new initiatives centered on counterterrorism and European stability that would be funded through the account. One would increase the U.S. presence in central and eastern Europe in response to Russian threats to Ukraine. The other new initiative would build alliances with partners around the world to deal with terrorism.
These new proposals appear to stretch the boundaries of the OCO account, which was originally set up to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even the administration’s own OCO guidelines -- issued by the Office of Management and Budget -- state that the account should be reserved for major equipment, aircraft and support in the geographic areas where direct combat missions take place. A useful proposal in the House would codify the OMB guidelines.
Congress has approved caps on defense and other discretionary spending that are increasingly tight. Yet lawmakers have been reluctant to approve reasonable cost-cutting measures that the Pentagon has repeatedly proposed.
This may increase the temptation to use the OCO account to circumvent the spending caps and avoid difficult budget choices. Lawmakers, administration officials and military leaders must work together to achieve the necessary cost savings while maintaining strong and balanced armed forces.