WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Friday sent two budget items to Congress – one to provide funding for combat operations next year, and another to limit the sting of sequestration this year.
The Defense Department is asking for $79.4 billion for its overseas contingency operations, or OCO, budget in 2014. The department did not include the OCO request with the $526.6 billion Pentagon base budget request submitted in April, saying that continuing deliberations over troop levels in Afghanistan made the spending picture unclear.
Troop numbers in Afghanistan will decline markedly during fiscal 2014, which starts Oct. 1. The Obama administration has said it would remove just over half the current number of troops before stabilizing the level at about 34,000 by February. The drawdown is expected to continue after Afghan elections are held in April, during which U.S. troops will assist with security.
The new OCO request is the smallest since 2005. Congress approved $86.5 billion for war spending in the current fiscal year.
Though troop numbers will be far lower, the OCO request only fell marginally in part because DOD needs to withdraw equipment and remove facilities that have been built up in Afghanistan over 12 years of fighting, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters Monday.
“It’s not all about cost-per-troop in the OCO budget,” he said.
The department also sent a $9.6 billion reprogramming request to Congress to shift funds from military personnel and investment accounts into those with pressing shortfalls as a result of nearly $40 billion in sequestration cuts in the current fiscal year.
“We’re trying to scrape for every penny, dime and nickel to achieve an additional $37 billion in cuts between now and the end of September,” Little said.
If Congress approves the measure, the money would support training and military operations, as well as higher-than-expected fuel costs this year.
“The main goal that we’re trying to deal with right now… is to limit the impact of sequestration on military readiness, particularly operations, training and maintenance accounts,” he said.
Pentagon officials hope the reprogramming request is approved by Congress by early June, Little said.