WASHINGTON — Top Pentagon officials admitted Thursday that the United States has not launched any new wars despite seeking a massive increase in funding for the unregulated account that was created solely to pay for overseas conflicts.
Under questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that there was no an increase in military activity that would explain that significant larger request for the war fund.
The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund was created in fiscal year 2011 to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in part so Congress no longer had to pass 11th-hour emergency appropriation bills to cover war costs.
Warren noted that the number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is significantly lower now than when OCO was created in 2011, yet the budget request is 140 percent higher than in fiscal 2019.
“Did the cost (of those conflicts) increase 140 percent?,” Warren asked Shanahan.
“No, senator, they did not,” he said.
Noting that the number of troops deployed in those war zones is unchanged from last year, Warren asked if the Pentagon had “deployed large number of troops to fight a war some other place?”
“Senator, we did not,” Shanahan responded.
The OCO budget for the current fiscal year is $69 billion; the Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget request for OCO is $165 billion, part of the overall $750 billion defense budget request.
Under the Budget Control Act, caps for defense spending are set at $576 billion for fiscal 2020. The OCO fund is not part of the BCA and thus can be inflated without restriction, other than congressional approval.
That seemed tentative, based on the comments Thursday of several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee where Shanahan was appearing. Support for the OCO request further seemingly diminished as Shanahan and others conceded some of the OCO money will be used to help build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mike Mulvaney, now the acting White House chief of staff, had blasted OCO as a “slush fund” when he was a Republican member of the House.
Shanahan bristled when one senator asked him about the “slush fund.”
“We have provided a justification (for the budget request),” Shanahan said. “There is no slush fund.”