The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual bill authorizing the fiscal year budget for the Department of Defense (DoD). While there is an important distinction between defense authorization (the estimation of spending), and the later appropriations (the distribution of money), NDAA still provides Americans an annual glimpse at our legislators’ fiscal integrity. Or lack thereof.
In this year’s Senate version that just passed 86-8, lawmakers once again showed their disregard for financial responsibility, adding billions of dollars to an already inflated Overseas Contingency Operations fund for a border construction project…here in the United States.
When the War on Terrorism began in 2001, Congress authorized the creation of the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to provide financial backing towards the war effort. Importantly, any funds designated as OCO do not count against the budget limits – under the premise that the war effort could not be foreseen and budgeted for.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has appropriated a staggering $2 trillion in discretionary spending to the account since 2001. While the Global War on Terrorism has died down over the last half decade, and troop levels in the Middle East have returned to 2002 levels when the fund was $19 billion, neither chamber of Congress has the integrity to reduce the budget for these accordingly. Instead, the OCO account is abused by Congress to serve as an escape hatch to evade fiscal constraints.
Take the Senate NDAA for example.
Last year’s NDAA authorized $69 billion for the OCO fund, and this year’s Senate version of NDAA seeks to increase that pot of money by 10 percent to $75.9 billion.
What is responsible for that significant increase nearly two decades since the start of the Global War on Terrorism? Here is the breakdown of the proposed OCO funding level changes:
Comparison of NDAA authorization levels for OCO funding (in thousands)
|FY 2019 Funding||FY 2020 Senate Proposal||Senate Net Change|
|Research & Development||$1,223,570||$898,732||($324,838)|
|Operations & Maintenance||$48,739,370||$52,548,450||$3,809,080|
Clearly, the largest discrepancy between this year’s and last year’s OCO funding lies within the military construction allocation. The $5.86 billion raise is responsible for nearly 85% of the total OCO funding increase. Buried on page 980 of S. 1790 is a $3.6 billion allocation for “Unspecified Worldwide Locations.” But truth be told, the location where these funds will be used is very specific.
In the Senate Armed Services report language for this bill, Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed disclose that the purpose of these funds is to “replenish funds for military construction projects repurposed for the national emergency declared on the southern border.”
And herein lies the problem. It is wickedly dishonest for lawmakers to disguise money within a dedicated overseas account with the phrase “unspecified worldwide locations,” knowing full well that the funding not only has a designated location, but that location is right here in the United States. Congress has long abused the OCO account for their own budget busting games – but using the “overseas” fund for a domestic project truly makes a mockery of our system.
The strongest argument for the discontinuing of the OCO fund is mismanagement. This year’s Senate NDAA not only violates the terms of the account, but it shows an unabashed disdain for the American taxpayer. The funding and building of a border wall is a contentious, politically-driven issue. But the use of overseas funds to build a structure of any kind here in the United States is quite obviously an example of gross mismanagement, regardless of political persuasion. This latest ploy is yet another example of Congressional lawmakers refusing to act responsibly with American taxpayer dollars—completely unacceptable.