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Research Questions

  1. What courses of action could increase funding flexibility to support emergent SOF operational requirements while preserving effective financial stewardship?
  2. How can the frequency and duration of disputes regarding funding responsibility for Special Operations Forces be reduced?
  3. Would making USSOCOM the Combatant Command Support Agent (CCSA) for the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs) be a desirable course of action to diminishing funding disputes?

This report examines mechanisms, sources, and inter-Service agreements for funding special operations forces (SOF) operations and provides recommendations to reduce the frequency and duration of disputes between the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the Military Departments, and Geographic Combatant Commands over their respective funding responsibilities for SOF, especially with respect to when Service Common (Major Force Program (MFP) 2) and SOF Peculiar (MFP 11) funds should be used.

The Geographic Combatant Commanders, in accordance with guidance received from the President and Secretary of Defense, generate requests for unplanned activities and operations, sometimes in response to unanticipated events. Such events fall outside planned and programmed activities, creating validated operational support requirements that are unfunded and/or unbudgeted. Each time this occurs, it leads to prolonged negotiations to work out funding responsibility disputes among a variety of stakeholders to secure the funding necessary to execute the new requirement. SOCOM's Global SOF Network (GSN) envisions increased use of SOF, which would further increase the frequency of such disputes and could be hindered by current funding processes, motivating the research conducted to produce this report. If the President and Congress agree to expand the use of SOF as described by the GSN concept, it would be necessary to increase the flexibility of funding available for validated but unfunded operations. To increase the effectiveness of SOF, the Department of Defense needs funding solutions that are responsive to global events while enabling effective financial stewardship that satisfies the needs of all stakeholders.

Key Findings

  • In the current operational environment, the TSOC headquarters coordinate with the Combatant Command Support Agents (CCSAs) and, with the guidance of paragraph 4 of the Execute Order (EXORD), to identify the appropriate funding sources for validated requirements. However, emergent validated but unfunded or unbudgeted requirements can create funding disputes that are difficult to resolve, potentially delaying execution. These disputes are likely to increase as Overseas Contingency Operations funding diminishes and the GCCs attempt to employ SOF under the GSN concept, if it is implemented.
  • The lack of a clearly defined dispute resolution process at the action-officer level, along with a lack of consistent standards on the appropriate application of funding sources, has led to protracted delays in the execution of validated but unfunded requirements.
  • If the GCCs are to be provided with SOF agile enough to respond to emerging threats and opportunities, as called out in the GSN concept, the financial policies and procedures must be aligned accordingly.
  • Making USSOCOM the CCSA for the TSOCs is not a desirable course of action. Department of Defense Directive 5100.03 makes clear that CCSA is a responsibility conferred on a MILDEP by the Secretary of Defense. USSOCOM is not a MILDEP but a combatant command — the type of organization that is supposed to be the recipient of CCSA goods and services, not the provider of them.
  • The TSOCs are now assigned to USSOCOM, a change in the organizational alignment that presents the Commander of USSOCOM with an opportunity to examine the current funding process and pursue courses of action that anticipate and eliminate or shorten the duration of funding disputes and also provide for more flexible funding.


  • If the President and Congress agree to expand the use of SOF as implied by the GSN concept, ensuring effective execution will require increasing the flexibility of funding for unfunded operations. We recommend that USSOCOM and the MILDEPs pursue with the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) [USD(C)] the application of one or more existing funding mechanisms designed to provide funding flexibility in the face of uncertain requirements to the funding of emergent requirements for SOF operations.
  • To reduce the opportunities for funding disagreements, USSOCOM should incorporate a financial planning element into the existing Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) drill. Specifically, USSOCOM should expand the ROC drill and synchronize it with the budget planning process to link potential funding sources, the responsibilities for funding, and the flow of funding to the requirements generated.
  • USSOCOM should establish its Joint Staff Directorate for Force Structure, Resource, and Assessment as the center of expertise at USSOCOM Headquarters responsible for shepherding the TSOCs through the requirements determination and funding process.
  • USSOCOM should champion a collaborative annual training program for the MILDEPs, TSOCs, Staff Judge Advocates, and USSOCOM Headquarters staff to inform all parties involved in SOF funding decisions of their roles and responsibilities, the dispute resolution process, details of the Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs), and relevant changes from new legislation or regulations.
  • USSOCOM's MOAs with the MILDEPs should be updated in four key ways: (1) include detailed descriptions of what "Service-common" means to each MILDEP; (2) include a clearly-designated process for resolving disputes at levels lower than the Commander, USSOCOM and senior MILDEP officials (e.g., the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force); (3) include definitions of Base Operating Support, MFP-2, and MFP-11; (4) include a single point of contact for each MOA.
  • USSOCOM and the USD(C) should develop approaches to improve the ability of the CCSAs, GCCs, and MILDEP component commands to distinguish between Service-common (MFP 2) and SOF-peculiar (MFP 11) expenses and resolve disputes expeditiously.

This research was sponsored by USSOCOM and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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