Pentagon Official Expresses Concerns Over Budget Instability
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2014 The use of overseas contingency operations funding has relieved some pressure on the Defense Department’s base budget, but as the war in Afghanistan winds down, those base budget requirements are at risk as future contingency funding faces uncertainty, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday.
John B. Johns, deputy assistant secretary of defense for maintenance policy and programs, discussed budget concerns and stability as they relate to national security at Aviation Week’s Defense Technologies and Requirements Conference.
“In many ways, what we have done to try to get away from the pressure on the base budget is we have invented a term called OCO,” Johns said. “Overseas contingency operations [are] relatively immune to the pressures of the base budget. If you look in the past and how budgets have been executed, the basic idea of doing this is really not that novel.” But the amount of money that is going into OCO, compared to the overall defensive budget, is relatively large, he added.
The problem, Johns said, is OCO funding eventually will go away.
“We have shifted, with as legitimate an argument as we could possibly make, base budget requirements into OCO,” he said.
“We’ve done it legally, because we can make an argument that it can fit. But they have never been there before.” Johns explained this was done because the department has “taken a hit in the base,” but knows those requirements still need to be satisfied.
“So we have moved them into the OCO budget, which puts them at risk when OCO goes away,” he said. Since the peak period of 2009 to 2011, he added, OCO funds have seen a 25-percent reduction. “And while the out-year budgets, as reflected in the 2015 budget submission, appear to be relatively stable, OCO is highly uncertain,” Johns said.
Pressure on the base budget will continue, he said, and DOD cannot rely on stabilization at that level. “At minimum,” he said, “sometime in the relatively near future, especially if we pull out of Afghanistan, … that OCO budget is going to be under pressure.”
Johns said that around this time last year, Pentagon officials “were predicting the sky was falling.”
“The entire sustainment community rallied behind this message that if we get the full effect of continuing resolutions, sequestration and OCO shortfalls,” he said, “we will have major impacts on readiness driven by huge deferrals across the board in every service.” This message was so coherent, impactful and effective, Johns said, that it never happened because the Defense Department got additional funding and reprogramming authority to protect areas believed to be at the greatest risk.
“I consider that to be a huge success of a unified community,” he said. “If we could just duplicate that in the future, we could be very successful in fighting some of the challenges that we’re going to face, I think, in the very near future.” However, said he added, he doesn’t believe that argument can be sustained.
“I’m not sure it’s going to work again,” he said. “We need to be collectively prepared for that situation where that does not work.”
Johns cautioned that when OCO funding does go away, he doesn’t believe the money will be rolled into the base budget. “We need to move and transition the critical enduring requirements that are currently being resourced in OCO into the base program,” he said. “Without that, some really bad decisions are going to be made.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)