November 19, 2014
Foreign Affairs Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO):
Background and Current Issues
Some Members of Congress are examining foreign affairs
funding designated as Overseas Contingency Operations
(OCO) because of its possible use for the overseas Ebola
crisis, efforts to combat the Islamic State (IS), and other
budgetary reasons. Funds that are designated as emergency
or OCO are effectively exempt from the spending limits
established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 11225, BCA). Some Members have suggested that this
exemption provides agencies with additional budget
cushioning and flexibility, allowing their overall funding to
exceed the spending caps.
addition to country-specific uses, Congress also
appropriated funds for the Global Security Contingency
Fund. Congress included limited transfer authority between
OCO accounts subject to regular notification requirements.
In the FY2013 full-year continuing appropriations (P.L.
113-6, Div. F, Title VII, Sec. 1707-1708), Congress did not
specify additional OCO-recipient countries except for
Jordan. Congress did provide limited transfer authority of
OCO funds, subject to regular notification procedures.
Figure1. Overseas Contingency Operations,
Within the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Programs appropriations, FY2014 OCO funds were
$6.5 billion, or 13% of the total foreign affairs funding that
year. The amended FY2015 OCO request for $7.8 billion
represents about 15% of the total foreign affairs request for
FY2015. The current OCO level, as provided by the
temporary FY2015 continuing resolution (P.L. 113-164,
CR), remains at the FY2014 rate for operations through
December 11, 2014. It also continues multiyear spending,
as well as broad transfer authorities, making its use
somewhat flexible. Any further action on the FY2015
budget during the lame duck session may affect OCO levels
The foreign affairs agencies began requesting OCO funding
in FY2012, distinguishing between what is referred to as
enduring (ongoing costs) versus extraordinary, temporary
costs of State and USAID in the frontline states of Iraq,
Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Many view this approach as
similar to the annual emergency supplemental
appropriations to support the Global War on Terrorism
(GWOT) in the frontline states during the George W. Bush
Congress, having provided OCO funds for the Department
of Defense (DOD) a year earlier, adopted this approach for
foreign affairs, although it never permanently defined its
uses in statute. Since 2012, Congress has appropriated more
OCO funds than were requested each year and authorized
its use in additional countries (see Figure 1). In contrast,
President Obama first sought OCO funds for a country
other than the three frontline states in the FY2015 request
when he requested OCO funds for Syria.
For the first foreign affairs OCO appropriation, Congress
provided FY2012 OCO funds (P.L. 112-74, Title VIII) for a
wide range of recipients beyond the three frontline states,
including Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, and the Philippines. In
Source: Department of State Congressional Budget Justifications,
FY2014, FY2015, and amendedFY2015 Administration request of June
27, 2014. The totals enacted are net rescissions.
For FY2014 (P.L. 113-76, Title VIII), Congress provided
four accounts with no-year (available until expended) OCO
funds, but made most foreign affairs OCO funds available
for two years—or until September 30, 2015 (see Table 1).
Congress also expanded the terms of transfer authority,
providing greater flexibility among certain accounts. It also
authorizes that transfers from those accounts be available to
International Disaster Assistance (IDA) and Migration and
Refugee Assistance (MRA), subject to certain dollar
amounts or percentages, and regular notification
procedures. FY2014 OCO-funded activities were in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, the Central
African Republic, and Somalia.
For FY2015, the current CR continues foreign affairs OCO
funding at the FY2014 rate for operations, $800 million on
an annualized basis below the FY2015 OCO request. It also
continues the expanded FY2014 terms of transfer authority
and the multiyear availability of most funds.
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Foreign Affairs Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO): Background and Current Issues
Current Funding and Issues
Foreign aid enduring appropriations being used to help
Ebola-stricken countries, thus far, include IDA and the
Global Health (GHP) account within State-Foreign
Operations appropriations, and Title II of Food for Peace
within the Agriculture Appropriations.
OCO funding levels for FY2014 (and continuing into
FY2015 by the CR) are as follows:
Table1. Current OCO Funding Levels ($ million)
Funds available until September 30, 2015
Diplomatic and Consular Programs (D&CP)
Office of Inspector General (OIG)
Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs
International Broadcasting Operations
United States Institute of Peace (USIP)
USAID’s Operating Expenses (OE)
Office of Inspector General
Transition Initiatives (TI)
Complex Crises Fund (CCF)
Economic Support Fund (ESF)
International Narcotics Control and Law
Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining,
and Related Programs (NADR)
Peacekeeping Operations (PKO)
Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
Embassy Security, Construction and
International Disaster Assistance (IDA)
Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA)
Contributions to International Organizations
OCO Amendment for IS?
On November 10, the Obama Administration submitted
amendments to the FY2015 OCO request for both DOD ($5
billion) and the Department of State ($520 million) to
counter IS. The amendments would be in addition to the
$58.6 billion for DOD and $7.3 billion for State, thus
making the total FY2015 OCO request $71.4 billion, of
which $7.8 billion would fund foreign affairs accounts:
D&CP, ESF, FMF, PKO, IDA, and International
Broadcasting. If Congress uses transfer authority for State
to use OCO for Ebola efforts, increasing OCO to combat IS
may also be necessary.
OCO and Spending Limit Implications
Funds available until expended
Conflict Stabilization Operations (CSO)
Some lawmakers are looking into the possibility of using an
expanded OCO or a portion of the $924.2 million of
OCO/IDA funds and the nearly $1.3 billion of OCO/MRA
funds, or transfer authority for U.S. overseas Ebola
response, rather than a large emergency supplemental. The
CR continues the FY2014 appropriations and extends Sec.
8003 authority to transfer OCO funds from ESF, INCLE,
NADR, PKO, and FMF into IDA and MRA only for
unanticipated contingencies, subject to regular notification.
Up to 15% of these accounts can be transferred and only if
the recipient account is not increased by more than 25%.
Recently, the four congressional defense committees
permitted a reprogramming of DOD’s OCO-designated
funds for its Ebola-related activities, so a precedent to use
OCO for a non-GWOT-related activity exists.
Source: Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015 (P.L. 113-164),
and Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Div. K, Title VIII.
OCO for Aid to Ebola-Stricken Countries?
On November 5, 2014, the Administration requested a total
of $6.2 billion in a comprehensive emergency supplemental
package to address the Ebola crisis. Of that, nearly $3
billion would be for foreign affairs accounts within the
State, Foreign Operations appropriations.
Through FY2021, the BCA imposes limits on discretionary
spending and provides for adjustments to those limits for
funds designated as OCO or emergency requirements.
When the House and Senate draft the budget resolutions
and the appropriations subcommittees consider funding for
DOD and foreign affairs, OCO can be used to provide
funds that are effectively not subject to those spending
limits, even if the funds have only a tangential relationship
to the war on terrorism. In the FY2015 budget process, for
example, some questioned the Senate’s increased use of
OCO funds over the previous fiscal year, asserting it was
done to free up discretionary funding for other agency
budgets and still meet the FY2015 limit of $1.014 trillion.
For more information on the foreign affairs budget, see
CRS Report R43569, State, Foreign Operations, and
Related Programs: FY2015 Budget and Appropriations.
Susan B. Epstein, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-6678
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