Pentagon Plays Games With War Funding Requests

The Pentagon’s reliance on supplemental funding requests to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan masks the true size of the U.S. defense budget and inhibits congressional oversight, analysts said this week.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld readily admits he sent Congress an incomplete budget in seeking $419.3 billion for fiscal year 2006, a 4.8 percent increase.

The Pentagon says it will seek another increase for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan later in the year, and analysts say the amount could reach $60 billion.

“The only way you can look at this budget is to look at the supplementals with it,” Rumsfeld told reporters on Monday.

Defense analysts argue that packing the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into a series of supplemental budget requests hides the full scope of defense spending — and thus saves the Pentagon from making deeper cuts in weapons programs to help pay its soldiers.

“They don’t want to do it in a unified budget; then we’d know where all the money was going,” said Chris Hellman at the Center for Arms Control and Proliferation.

The supplemental spending requests do not include the same level of detail as in the defense budget, thus hampering lawmakers in their effort to oversee military costs, he said.

The administration plans to send lawmakers next week a supplemental budget request for an extra $80 billion to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30, including about $75 billion in spending for the Pentagon.

Funding ongoing military operations through these emergency funding measures was tantamount to “using that little jar of money you keep for rainy days to buy groceries,” Hellman said.

Loren Thompson of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute said he expected the administration to seek at least $60 billion in additional funding for Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal 2006. White House budget director Joshua Bolten told reporters more money will be needed in the coming year, but added it is too soon to estimate the amount.


Pentagon officials argue war costs are too unpredictable to include in a baseline budget, and bristle at any suggestion that they are using supplementals to fund non-combat costs.

“That would be wrong, and we wouldn’t do that,” Rumsfeld said.

At the same time, Rumsfeld noted that a $300 million drop in Army funding would be offset by additional funds to speed up its restructuring into a more agile force, a legitimate “emergency” expense, because the Army was making changes even as it moved troops into and out of Iraq.

Steve Kosiak at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said these changes would occur whether or not U.S. forces were engaged in combat and should be in the regular budget.

Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas said this year’s budget for the first time included increased costs associated with Navy patrols around U.S. waters in the regular budget — items that had previously been part of supplemental budget requests.

Former Pentagon budget chief, Dov Zakheim, now a consultant with Booz, Allen, Hamilton, defended the use of supplementals. He said current troop levels in Iraq were far higher than expected last year at this time, which proved the wisdom of holding off and using supplementals to fund such operations.

The situation in Iraq was likely to remain uncertain, requiring continued use of supplementals for funding the war effort, he said in a telephone interview.

But he said funding for operations in Afghanistan should probably be included in the fiscal 2007 baseline budget, given the relatively stable situation after Afghan elections.

© Reuters 2005. All rights reserved.