22 February 2016

Paying for America’s Wars in FY2017

The Projected Cost and Nature of U.S. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Counterterrorism Partnerships, European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), and the World
FEB 18, 2016
The United States is exceptionally transparent in reporting on its military activities and spending – but only in comparison to the far more limited level of transparency in most other governments. Security and “spin” still limit or color much of the official reporting, and it is often difficult to track any clear relationship between U.S. defense budgets and programs and what the U.S. actually spends on given wars. In most cases, it is even harder to determine what programs the United State is actually executing, and what the broad rhetoric used in official documents and briefings actually means.
U.S. National Security Strategy and Budget Documents: The Fog of Transparency in Dealing with the Fog of War
Almost all official U.S. reporting on strategy and future programs, for example, is so lacking in specifics that it justifies virtually anything the U.S. does, and is issued without supporting that rhetoric with either substantive cost-benefit analysis or meaningful measures of effectiveness. Like virtually every other country in the world, the budget data the United States issues is “line item” data that is tied to some broad category of what the United States buys rather than a key element of strategy, the efforts of a given major command, or a program budget that ties the assessment of spending to some key mission.
The United States has effectively abandoned any effort to justify and explain its national security efforts in terms of a public net assessment, future force plan, or “program budget” since the end of the Cold War. Where it once provided a clear Future Years Defense Program, and justification of that plan in terms of strategy, force plans, other details, and cost – the United States now issues a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) that is so general and focused so far in the future as to be nearly meaningless. Its annual budget justifications only really cover the coming year and the strategy sections are not tied in any specific way to the force, readiness, and budget data that follow – either on a Department of Defense-wide basis or by military service.
Improving Reporting on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)

There are, however, exceptions. In the past, the United States dealt with the need to pay for ongoing military operations by voting for very broad and poorly defined supplementals to the regular defense budget and then by creating a very broad set of funding requests for an Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account that failed to provide enough data to explain what the money was being used for, or even to provide a credible accounting for given wars.

It is one of the ironies of the often intense U.S. political debates over both strategy and the use of force that neither the Executive Branch nor Congress ever really reported on the overall cost of the Afghan or Iraq Wars per se from FY2001/FY2002 to the present, and that the OCO account was sufficiently general so that the Departments of Defense and State used it to cover additional expenditures – sometimes with tacit Congressional support – that had little to do with actual OCO activity.

The quality of the Department of Defense budget requests and analysis of OCO operations has, however, improved with time. The broad budget briefs now submitted every year still do not attempt to project costs beyond the coming fiscal year, are not linked to any clearly defined net assessment of the threat or capabilities of U.S. partners and allies, or a strategy that links civil-military operations, anticipates the nature and cost of stability operations, or provides measures of effectiveness.

In fairness, however, there are real security reasons for limiting some of the missing data. War is an uncertain and constantly evolving business, and strategies and plans often fail to survive their encounter with reality. Ever since FY2014, the budget briefing data provide by the Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense have provided more data on the individual wars and key elements of OCO activity. (http://comptroller.defense.gov/budgetmaterials/budget2016.aspx)
New Report on Paying for America’s Wars in FY2017

In FY2016, these briefing data began to present supplements that covered individual wars in some depth, and in FY2017 they provide both overview and individual briefs on theOverseas Contingency Operations Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) , Overseas Contingency Operations Syria Train and Equip Fund (STEF) , Overseas Contingency Operations Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) , European Reassurance Initiative, and Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.

All of these different reports on the President’s FY2017 budget request and Overseas Contingency Operations activities are combined in a new Burke Chair report entitledPaying for America’s Wars in FY2017: The Department of Defense and State Department Estimates of the Projected Cost and Nature of U.S. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Counterterrorism Partnerships, European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), and the World .

This report is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/160218_cordesman_fy2017.pdf.

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