An important update to a story we first reported last year. Lisa Fletcher dug into a giant account that critics call the Pentagon’s slush fund. Now, Lisa reports, that fund could be about to get a new injection of money-- with you paying the bill and critics in both parties worried about abuse.
The Overseas Contingency Operations account -- or OCO -- was designed as a safety net for unplanned expenditures during times of war. Some say, it’s -become- a wiggle room for waste-- that no one’s watching.
Ryan Alexander: When you play, make these kind of gimmicks and play with the different accounts, it makes it unbelievably difficult to kind of hold the Pentagon accountable for Congress to do real oversight.
Ryan Alexander is the President of Taxpayers for Common Sense. She’s been tracking spending by the Pentagon account for years.
The account is outside the Pentagon’s budget...Meaning it is not subject to spending limits set by law.
Ryan claims that opens the door for out-of-bounds spending: In 2014, the Pentagon tried to shift $1.9 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds to buy f-35’s – that weren’t even working at the time! Congress ultimately rejected that request. Last year, $69 million in funds from the account were used for a detention facility at Guantanamo Bay - not an unplanned war-time expense. $66 million was spent on upgrades at a long-standing navy facility in Italy--also not unplanned or war-related. And a parking apron in Djibouti and an army base in Cuba were also on the OCO tab. Neither falling under the fund’s requirements, according to critics.
Spending like that -- has drawn long-time condemnation from both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen: There’s concern that OCO has been used as a slush fund.
Sen. Rand Paul: It’s really a way of cheating, a way of being dishonest in your accounting.
Critics once included current acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, before he worked for the Trump Administration.
Mick Mulvaney: I’m here to talk about OCO. My opinion shouldn’t be a secret to anybody. I don’t like it very much!
When he was in Congress in 2016 -- Mulvaney sponsored legislation to limit spending in the account.
Now, the White House Budget Office...Wants a *steep increase* in OCO spending for 2020.
The acting White House Budget Director faced questions about it during a house hearing on the budget request.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: Let me ask you about OCO, which we call the slush fund. how much does the President propose cutting the Defense Department’s slush fund in fiscal year 20?
Russell Vought: We propose increasing the..
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: How much do you propose increasing it by?
Russell Vought: Increase it from 69 billion to 164 billion.
$164 billion -- almost one quarter of the entire proposed defense budget for 2020 --- is in the Overseas Contingency Operations Account.
To put that in perspective, if OCO were a federal agency...It would have a bigger budget than most of the others, including the EPA and the Department of Justice.
Ryan Alexander: The OCO account on its own would be the second largest agency.
Lisa: What percentage of the OCO budget is actually for direct war spending?
Ryan Alexander: It’s only 15% of the budget is going to direct war spending. That’s crazy.
A White House budget official defended the request for more money to the fund in an op-ed. He wrote it’s the only fiscally responsible option to meet national security needs while without exceeding spending caps created by law.