One of the funniest parts of the very funny movie Office Space has to do with the ridiculous requirement, and the related dialogue, regarding cover sheets on TPS reports. You remember:
Why is this relevant in a piece about the Pentagon and allegations that their Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, account has become little more than a slush fund “threatening to become a permanent repository for unneeded projects and bad ideas”, as William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, recently opined in the Los Angeles Times? Because they are both examples of the perniciousness of bureaucracy and, specifically, the “business speak” that accompanies it.
As the Times piece notes, there are several (almost hilariously) broadly defined budget items in the fiscal year 2015 OCO war budget, despite the fact that the US is winding down its presence in Afghanistan to fulfill one of President Obama’s stated goals.
Nearly half of that $43 billion is earmarked “to carry out the entire array of support activities by units and forces operating in the Central Command area outside of Afghanistan, including … the Arabian Gulf region.”
This is an astonishing range of potential activities and locales, which could include the building blocks for wars anywhere from Iran to Iraq to Somalia. For example, the Obama administration has indicated that it plans to pay for the current military operation in Iraq with OCO funds, despite calls from many in Congress that it seek separate authorization for this action.
In other words, all that broad language is fairly meaningless as a specific budget item because its very scope opens up the possibility of spending on any number of “activities”, rather than restrict how that money can be used. Good budgets are restrictive.
In addition to the problem of OCO also being used to arm moderate Syrian rebels — is anyone really sure those exist now? — the question of Congressional approval for war activities is not one likely to be answered anytime soon.
As Hartung notes:
In keeping with these concerns, Congress should scale back the war budget and demand clearer justifications for the requested money, in particular for the Counterterrorism Partnerships program. It’s time to rein in the Pentagon’s slush fund.