Stimson Study Group on Counterterrorism Spending

As the United States is lacking an accurate accounting of how much it has spent on counterterrorism (CT) efforts, the gaps in data present challenges for policymakers in addressing the precise needs of the CT mission.  In order to address this issue, the Stimson Center commissioned a nonpartisan study group with a goal “to provide an initial tally of total CT spending since 9/11, to examine gaps in the understanding of CT spending, and to offer recommendations for improving U.S. government efforts to account for these expenditures.”
According to the group’s research, the overall CT-related spending, “including expenditures for government-wide homeland security efforts, international programs, and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria,” equaled $2.8 trillion during fiscal years 2002 through 2017. The data suggests a variability in spending across the represented time frame, with the annual CT spending peaking at $260 billion in 2008. In comparison, as the war efforts declined in recent years, 2017 saw the total CT spending at $175 billion. Significantly, both numbers represent a 16- and an 11-fold increase respectively over the 2001 total.
As stated by Stimson Fellow Laicie Heeley, “CT spending has become a substantial component of total discretionary spending for programs across a wide range of areas, including defense, education, and medical research.” Given the variety of CT engagements and the overall significance of the mission, this dynamic is not expected to change. Yet it is the lack of accurate data that prevents policymakers from judging upon the efficiency and effectiveness of the current spending efforts.
The study group concluded that “a broader set of parameters is urgently needed in order to make the full federal investment in CT more transparent, to identify gaps and trade-offs, and to permit more useful evaluations of the effectiveness and efficiency of that spending.” These include the following measures: [1] Create a clear and transparent counterterrorism funding report. [2] Adopt a detailed agencywide definition for counterterrorism spending. [3] Build on current accounting structures to anticipate future budget pressures. [4] Tie the definition of war spending to specific activities. [5] Require Congress to separately approve emergency or wartime spending.
Ultimately, “taking these actions will help to ensure that CT spending is targeted toward programs that are most effective in confronting the terrorist threat, under both current and future budgetary constraints.”
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