By William D. Hartung
October 6, 2014
CNN

Editor’s note: William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) — It’s no secret that the Obama administration has been routinely using the war budget as a safety valve to pay for equipment and operations that have nothing to do with fighting wars.

But as the President continues to expand U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria, it is important that this practice of using war funding to pay for unrelated items be brought to an end. The alternative — allowing the Pentagon to use budgetary sleight of hand to evade the spending caps contained in current law — is simply unacceptable.

The levels of overfunding of the war budget — known in Pentagon-ese as the Overseas Contingency Operations account — have been astonishing. Independent analyses by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the Project on Government Oversight suggest that there may be $20 to $30 billion in non-war-related expenditures in the $80 billion-plus OCO account in the 2014 budget alone.

Two recent examples underscore how much excess funding has been sloshing around in the war budget. For a start, there is the fact that there is apparently enough money in the OCO account to pay for short-to-medium term expenses of the Obama administration’s new war in Iraq and Syria. Yet every dollar in that account should have been justified based on the war in Afghanistan. This raises the question of what this money would have been spent on had the U.S. not become involved in countering ISIS. Second, there is talk of using the fund to buy eight additional F-35 fighter planes that won’t even be ready for combat for a year or two.

The next big budget battle will come with the Obama administration’s proposal for Pentagon spending for FY 2016, which will be submitted to Congress next year. Independent experts have reportedly suggested that the Obama administration may ask for $15 to $20 billion in OCO spending for Iraq and Syria alone, plus whatever they assert is necessary to continue transitioning the U.S. mission in Afghanistan from direct combat against the Taliban to continued training of Afghan security forces.

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