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February 9, 2016

CENTCOM Doesn’t Know How to Shrink or Shift, Report Finds

U.S. Central Command, with a geographic region that encompasses hotspots like the Middle East, North Africa and Central and South Asia, has seen its number of regular personnel increase by nearly 70 percent since around the time of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But with the war in Iraq over, the war in Afghanistan winding down and pressure from Pentagon leadership to reduce its headquarters spending, that figure and other CENTCOM-related funding is expected to shrink and move to another part of the budget. Only the Department of Defense isn’t ready for it, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

Between fiscal years 2001 and 2013, authorized positions at CENTCOM grew from almost 1,590 to 2,730, a number that doesn’t include 550 temporary personnel and 1,100 contractors. Intelligence jobs and theater special operations command saw  particular growth. Among the service component commands, most of the growth was at U.S. Army Central and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command.  Including the service component commands, plans call for the total number of authorized personnel to fall from 5,997 to 4,803 between fiscal years 2015 and 2019.

And there’s another problem, according to the GAO: The majority of what CENTCOM does is funded via Overseas Contingency Operations, a war-related account that doesn’t count against the U.S. budget. And the Pentagon hasn’t figured out yet how to shift over any existing expenses for CENTCOM to its base budget.

The GAO study, which was conducted at the behest of the House and Senate Armed Services panels, recommended that the Defense Department develop guidance to prepare for that budget transition for any expected ongoing costs, including development of a timetable for making it happen. The Defense Department partially agreed with the recommendation, but noted that it couldn’t “be  accomplished as a single point-in-time event due to uncertainty over the evolution of threats in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility and the impact of” budget caps enacted in 2011.

GAO concluded that “without guidance that addresses how to pay for enduring headquarters costs funded by overseas contingency operations appropriations and a time frame to transition these costs to DOD’s base budget, DOD may not be able to fully resource these activities once the funding decreases or ceases.”

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