Administration proposes $750B defense budget via huge increase in OCO spending

President Donald Trump's 2020 budget would bypass defense funding caps by adding nearly $100 billion to DoD's wartime spending account.

This story will be updated. 

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The Trump administration formally proposed a significant increase in defense spending on Monday, even as its fiscal year 2020 budget advocated for major reductions in the non-defense discretionary portion of the federal budget.

Overall defense spending for the year — including defense-related Energy Department funding — would total $750 billion. About $718 billion would go to the Defense Department, a nearly 5 percent increase over the 2019 level.

As the administration had signaled last month, it intends to allocate the additional defense funding without asking Congress to change the spending caps that are set to go back into effect next year under the Budget Control Act.

For 2020, the BCA caps for defense are set at just $576 billion. So in order to reach the $750 billion figure, the administration would dramatically increase the size of DoD’s overseas contingency operations account, which is not subject to the caps.

In 2019, OCO funding, originally designed to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was set at $69 billion; in 2020, it would rise to $165 billion. And the White House wants to use the DoD budget to designate another $9 billion out of the $750 billion total as emergency border security spending.

“The budget builds on steady gains that have restored military readiness, enhanced lethality, increased force size, and driven the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria out of territory it once held,” the administration wrote in its budget release. “On this foundation of strength, the budget reflects the full integration of the National Defense Strategy across DoD, and supports dominance across all domains.”

Pay raise for service members, cuts for civilians

For the rest of the government, 2020 funding would be set in line with the budget caps, at $543 billion. The figure is down from $597 billion in non-Defense discretionary spending allowed for this year, a more than 9 percent reduction.

For military service members, the budget also includes a proposed pay increase of 3.1 percent, up from the 2.6 percent raise troops received in 2019. The administration noted it would be the biggest increase in a decade. But DoD’s civilian workforce, like the rest of the government’s civil servants, would get no pay increase and would see a variety of cuts to their retirement and health care benefits.

Despite the top-line increase, the budget would not make a meaningful impact on the overall numbers of personnel in the military services. It would fund an overall end strength of 2,140,300 active duty and reserve troops across all of the armed services, down slightly from the 2,162,800 Congress authorized for 2019.

“This is not funding for endless wars. This is for research and development and procurement to fund the most awe inspiring military the world has ever known,” Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget told reporters Monday. “We can no longer afford the paradigm that Congress keeps giving us, which is that we’re never going to make any trade-offs…we are trying to say that we need to continue to secure the country, we need to continue to secure the border. We’re not going to be bashful about that.”

The White House released only a summary of its budget proposal on Monday, and plans to deliver more detail in phases. More budget documents are scheduled to be published next week, and Defense officials, including budget officials from each of the military services, plan to brief reporters on their spending plans on Tuesday.

The initial document revealed only a few details about how DoD would spend its increased funds in 2020. For example, it said the military would spend $9.6 billion on cybersecurity and cyber operations missions next year, up from the $8 billion the administration requested this year.

And DoD’s new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, launched only last June, would get $208 million in new funding to start its first round of AI investments.

The administration said it was also proposing $286 million to begin shoring up the most vulnerable areas of the defense industrial base. The funding commitment follows a year-long study that identified five “macro forces” that pose serious risks to the military’s supply base.

And while the top-line numbers suggested growth across the broad DoD budget, at least one funding line — the Army Corps of Engineers — would see a massive cut.

The administration proposed $4.8 billion for the Corps’ civil works programs in 2020, a 31 percent decrease from this year. It would not be allowed to start any new projects next year, and would be told to focus instead on those that are already under construction.

The White House said it wanted to reduce the water infrastructure programs’ reliance on federal funding and give states “more flexibility to make investments they deem a priority.”

“The current paradigm for investing in water resources development is not optimal; it can deter rather than enable local communities, states, and the private sector from making important investments on their own, even when they are the primary beneficiaries,” administration officials wrote. “The budget lays the foundation for accelerating the construction of infrastructure and increasing competition in the delivery of projects, thereby resulting in faster completion of projects and cost savings.”

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