The President submits his FY2012 budget request to Congress on Monday. People who follow the federal budget closely should be on the lookout for the new feature within the International Affairs budget request: a new State/USAID Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
For the first time, State/USAID has separated out what it considers the “extraordinary” costs of transitioning from predominately military to predominately civilian missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and will be submitting those costs to Congress independently.
A State/USAID OCO account sets a new precedent, though the Pentagon has been doing this for years. Since 2002, DOD has separated out its war costs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and related counterterrorism operations from its base budget, which funds regular DOD personnel costs, procurement programs, research and development, etc. This separation has allowed DOD to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond while at the same time maintaining funding for its other, non-war related day-to-day missions.
Foggy Bottom hopes that its OCO account will fence funding for these ‘frontline’ states, saving them from heavy reductions.
State’s argument is a simple one: “Roughly one-quarter of the State/USAID budget goes to civilian efforts in three frontline states: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.” State argues that “investing in civilian operational capacity” is the next phase of US strategy in the Near East and that savings accrued from the US military drawdown must be invested in such efforts.
It is not yet clear what programs and initiatives will be included in this civilian OCO account, though. Congress should examine State/USAID’s OCO closely, ensuring these “extraordinary” requirements are essential to US strategy and national security, directly related to the military-to-civilian transition, and are short-term in nature. Congress should not allow State/USAID’s OCO account to fund any part of State/USAID’s regular efforts; these should be funded through its base budget.
The same is true for DOD. The Will and the Wallet's Gordon Adams has continuously criticized DOD for putting base missions and equipment into its OCO account. The Pentagon has funded a number of non-war related programs through its OCO request, including long-term acquisition programs like the F-35 fighter. This is inappropriate. War funding, which generally receives less scrutiny from Congress, should not provide for non-war related missions or equipment.
This maneuver of grouping the civilian costs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan into a separate request may preserve State/USAID funding in these key countries. But honest accounting should be required by State/USAID and the Pentagon alike.