The Complex

Shifting Priorities: Pentagon Wants to Move Money for Ebola, Ukraine, and Iraq

Periodically, the Pentagon seeks Congress’s permission to shift money around its accounts. These reprogramming requests, as they’re called, are often overlooked as boring budget documents. But the latest request sent to Capitol Hill earlier this week is chock full of attention-grabbing items. For example, the Defense Department wants to help develop four Ukrainian National Guard ...

STAFF/AFP/Getty Images
STAFF/AFP/Getty Images

Periodically, the Pentagon seeks Congress’s permission to shift money around its accounts. These reprogramming requests, as they’re called, are often overlooked as boring budget documents. But the latest request sent to Capitol Hill earlier this week is chock full of attention-grabbing items.

For example, the Defense Department wants to help develop four Ukrainian National Guard companies. And it wants to assist health care workers — beyond sending a 25-bed hospital to Liberia — in their fight against Ebola.

All in all, the Defense Department wants to shift $2.6 billion among its accounts to respond to new national security priorities. But world events are not the only driving force behind the request. The Pentagon intends to move $1.5 billion so it can buy fifth-generation fighter aircraft that won’t be available in time to respond to what’s going on in Africa or the Middle East.

Still, the reprogramming request, which comes just ahead of this fiscal year’s end, provides plenty of insight into Pentagon planners’ thought process.

They want to move $45 million from a general operations and maintenance account to the global security contingency fund. Of that, $30 million is marked for Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria to help their governments "develop institutional and tactical capabilities to enhance their respective efforts to counter Boko Haram, and to lay the groundwork for increased cross-border cooperation to counter Boko Haram."

The remaining $15 million is intended for Ukraine. The Pentagon plans to offer "technical expertise, training, and equipment, to develop four Ukrainian National Guard companies for one tactical headquarters capable of conducting internal defense operations."

The Defense Department is making a big lump sum request of $500 million for humanitarian assistance to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa and to address the suffering the Islamic State is inflicting upon Iraqis and Syrians. The documents do not delineate how much goes into each pot but offer new details on the Defense Department’s plans to combat Ebola, which has claimed 2,300 lives in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

For Ebola, the money is supposed to support the transportation of DOD and non-DOD personnel and supplies such as isolation units, protective equipment for personnel, and temporary shelters for quarantine, as well as subject-matter experts. The documents note that the funding is in anticipation of requests from the U.S. Agency for International Development that the Pentagon expects to receive.

To date, the Pentagon has only unveiled plans to send a 25-bed hospital to Monrovia for the Liberian government to operate, which aid organizations widely panned as inadequate.

"Funds are also required to provide support to citizens impacted by the brutality of terrorist groups in the CENTCOM area of responsibility," the documents state. This includes the cost of providing and transporting supplies, like water, food, clothing, and shelter, plus the evacuation and relocation costs of moving refugees to safety.

Todd Harrison, a budget expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said that even the $500 million hints that there may be some uncertainty about what’s going to be required in this humanitarian assistance mission area.

"The Pentagon may be looking to build in some budgetary elbow room," he said.

The documents provide other new details on some of the costs the Pentagon has been racking up since it began airstrikes in Iraq on August 8. The Navy needs to shift $70 million for "increases in aviation fuel and maintenance costs supporting contingencies in the Middle East." Another $80 million needs to be moved around to cover higher than budgeted costs to maintain Navy ships that have had their deployments extended.

The Pentagon is requesting permission to shift $28 million to support the U.S. military assessment teams on the ground in Iraq.

"The teams are focused on assessing the strength and cohesion of the Iraqi security force, strength and locations of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and protection of Embassy personnel," the document says.

The documents also include a handful of requests for new equipment, including $404 million to buy 21 Apache helicopters, which will replace the same number of older Army Kiowa Warrior helicopters. Another $15 million is needed to replenish the Army’s stock of Hellfire missiles used during operations in Afghanistan.

The Navy is asking to move $852 million to buy six F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to replace the six Marine Corps Harrier jets destroyed during a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in September 2012. Two Marines died during the attack.

The Air Force would like to shift another $248 million to buy two more F-35 aircraft to replace two F-15 aircraft "lost in combat" in the CENTCOM area of responsibility sometime during 2012 to 2013.

The Pentagon is authorized to fund combat losses out of supplemental war funding, but buying new F-35s and Apache helicopters stretches this policy, Harrison said.

The new aircraft are far more expensive than the ones they’re replacing and they are not going to be ready anytime soon, he said.

Raising some interesting questions, the Air Force also needs $121 million to develop and procure a "mission critical" modification to its 30,000-pound "bunker-buster" bomb, known as the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator. More information is available at "a higher classification level upon request."

This is a massive bomb, said Harrison, and it is certainly not needed against Islamic State targets, which have mostly been checkpoints, pickup trucks, and Humvees.

The Pentagon is also seeking to shift $133 million for classified programs.

The Defense Department sends its request to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the four congressional defense committees, which have the power to veto line items to which they object.

The Pentagon says the funds it’s asking to move are no longer needed and therefore are available to move to higher priorities for a number of reasons, but mostly because operating costs are lower than expected due to an accelerated reduction of deployed troops and a faster than expected drawdown of forward operating bases.

But some of the other reasons that funds are newly available raise some interesting questions.

For example, $39 million is no longer needed "due to fewer Top Secret investigations being required to be initiated than were previously estimated."

Yemen hasn’t been in the headlines lately and it also appears to be falling down the Pentagon’s list of priorities, as the department would like to move $26 million away from its program building partnership capacity in the country due to "higher priority requirements."

Explore the budget change requests here:

A Pentagon request sent to Congress to shift $45 million between its accounts.

 

A Pentagon request sent to Congress to shift $1.9 billion between accounts.

 

 

A Pentagon request sent to Congress to shift $639 million between accounts.

 

 

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

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