Updated ISIS Request Should Set Bar for War Spending

As expected, the Obama Administration today issued amendments to its FY 2015 war spending (Overseas Contingency Operations) request, adding $5.6 billion for ISIS-related operations to the $65.8 billion already requested. The request includes $5 billion for the Defense Department and $520 million for support for opposition in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan as well as humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon spending mostly goes to operations and maintenance accounts in support of the Army and Air Force. The request also includes a $1.6 billion Iraq Train and Equip Fund, which would provide military support and training for the Iraqi government through FY 2017. Other items include support for the moderate Syrian opposition and support for the Jordanian and Lebanese governments in securing their borders.

Administration Amendments to War Spending Request by Category
Category FY 2015 Spending
Previous OCO Request $65.8 billion
Military Personnel $0.1 billion
Operations and Maintenance $2.3 billion
Iraq Train and Equip Fund $1.6 billion
Procurement $0.8 billion
Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation $0.1 billion
Syrian Opposition Funding $0.2 billion
Jordan and Lebanon Funding $0.3 billion
Humanitarian Assistance $0.1 billion
Amended OCO Request $71.4 billion

 Source: OMB
Numbers may not sum due to rounding.

The request brings the total war spending request to $71.4 billion, still $20 billion lower than the $92 billion annualized amount that lawmakers provided in the continuing resolution for the start of FY 2015 (equal to the amount provided for FY 2014). Congress will have to revisit the funding levels in a month when the CR expires, and when they do, they should at a minimum adhere to the requested levels. Ideally, though, they could go lower by removing items from the original OCO request that had more to do with the Defense Department's long-term strategies rather than the immediate war effort. Some of the items in the amended request also represent a bit of mission creep since they are directed at areas other than the original intent of OCO: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.


Congress should also use appropriations and the defense authorization to tighten the OCO designation by establishing criteria for OCO spending. Putting caps on war spending to reflect the drawdown in Afghanistan would also help prevent moving non-war related items into OCO. The cap would have a further benefit of ensuring that extra ISIS spending or other needs are paid for as they arise rather than added to the debt as they have been since 2001, essentially creating a war spending pay-as-you-go system. Lawmakers can also use the defense authorization to tighten the definition of what can qualify as war spending to ensure that there is actually a good reason to exceed the caps and prevent the use of OCO to get around the cap on non-war defense spending.

With this latest amendment, the Administration has set a clear bar for OCO spending. Appropriators should stay at or under it so that they don't use OCO to game the spending caps or perpetuate the category as a permanent slush fund.