Oct 25, 2018

CBO calls foul on the wartime expense fund

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds a press conference at the Pentagon on August 28, 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Since 2001, up to 28% of the annual defense budget has been hived off from the base budget into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to pay for wartime operations. But a new study by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that since 2006 at least $50 billion of annual OCO funds actually went to enduring activities — that is, those associated with running the military during peacetime.

Why it matters: Take this year’s budget: CBO estimates $47 billion for enduring costs out of the total $69 billion OCO budget. That means almost 70% of the OCO budget is not being used for its stated purpose — to sustain operations and the troops currently deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. This indicates a substantial misuse or misallocation of funds.

Background: In 2011, after a staggering rise in public debt and annual deficits, Congress and the Obama administration struck a deal that tried to pre-empt a budgetary crisis by limiting spending in certain areas, including defense. The Budget Control Act (BCA) was intended to curb some of the Pentagon’s spending and get the defense budget back on a sustainable trajectory.

However, the BCA was soon understood to be flawed, because any funds put into the OCO account for wartime operations were not subject to the same restrictions that limited the base budget. The CBO report now confirms that the BCA didn’t accomplish its goal the way its authors intended.

The OCO account makes up roughly 20% of the total annual defense budget, from 2001 to 2018. Especially in recent years, most of that funding should have been included in the base budget and thus subject to BCA restrictions, because that’s how it was ultimately used — not on wartime operations, but on the basic functions of our military.

What to watch: According to the 2019 budget, $20 billion of what had previously been labeled wartime funds will be moved from the OCO account to the base budget, where it belongs. This does not address every budgetary concern, but acknowledging how funds are actually spent should ensure more accurate accounting in future budget deals.

Caroline Dorminey is a policy analyst in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Go deeper

Top Trump ally sounds 2020 election alarm over coronavirus response

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

There is growing concern among top conservative leaders that the Trump administration isn't addressing the long-term economic impact of the coronavirus, several sources tell Axios. One top adviser said if the recovery is bungled it could cost President Trump the election.

What we're hearing: "The next 4-8 weeks is really going to decide whether Trump gets reelected," Stephen Moore, Trump's former nominee for the Federal Reserve board, told Axios. If the administration mishandles its economic recovery efforts, he said, Trump is "in big trouble."

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,600,427 — Total deaths: 95,506 — Total recoveries: 354,006Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 465,329 — Total deaths: 16,513 — Total recoveries: 25,410Map.
  3. Public health latest: U.S. has expelled thousands of migrants under a CDC public health orderDr. Anthony Fauci said social distancing could reduce the U.S. death toll to 60,000.
  4. Business latest: The Fed will lend up to $2.3 trillion for businesses, state and city governments — After another 6.6 million jobless claims, here's how to understand the scale of American job decimation.
  5. 2020 latest: Top conservative leaders are concerned the Trump administration isn't addressing the virus' long-term economic impact.
  6. States latest: FEMA has asked governors to decide if they want testing sites to be under state or federal control.
  7. World latest: Lockdowns have led to a decline in murders in some of the world's most violent countries — Boris Johnson is moved out of the ICU but remains in hospital with coronavirus.
  8. In Congress: Senate in stalemate over additional funding for small business relief program.
  9. 1 SNL thing: "Saturday Night Live" will return this weekend in a remotely produced episode.
  10. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredPets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions

Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy