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White House Pits Military Needs against Border Fence in Funding Battle

White House Pits Military Needs against Border Fence in Funding Battle

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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security

sylvia longmire contributorOn March 18, the Pentagon released a list of hundreds of military construction projects worldwide totaling nearly $6.8 billion, many of which could be delayed or have funds diverted to fund the southern border wall. According to Military.com, projects include a $38 million training support facility at Fort Rucker, AL; a $32 million vehicle maintenance shop at Fort Campbell, KY; a $53 million unmanned aerial vehicle hangar at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea; and $65 million for a “parking structure” at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

$8 Billion For Border Wall

When President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Feb. 15 in order to secure over $8 billion in border fence funding that Congress denied, his first stop was the Department of Defense — specifically $3.6 billion in unallocated funding for construction projects that could be diverted to border fence construction. After a brief delay, Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan released the list of eligible projects to the Senate Armed Services Committee. This happened one day after acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, went on Sunday talk shows to state that there was no existing list of projects facing cancellation and “it could be a while” before one was delivered to Congress.

Construction Projects

Military.com elaborated that the list is a complete accounting of all projects still unawarded as of Dec. 31, 2018. Not everything on the list is eligible for reallocation; only projects with award dates after Sept. 30, 2019 qualify, and no military housing, barracks or dormitory projects can be touched, officials said. This notice is important as the list is being published in the midst of a military housing crisis. All three services are coming under fire for substandard, and even dangerous, living conditions in privatized military housing on bases across the country.

Senate Armed Services Committee’s Reaction

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the first person to make the list public and was highly critical of the move by the White House. “We know President Trump wants to take money from our national security accounts to pay for his wall,” said Reed, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, in a statement. “And now we have a list of some of the projects and needed base repairs that could be derailed or put on the chopping block as a result.” Furthermore, he stated that Trump was “planning to take funds from real, effective operational priorities and needed projects and divert them to his vanity wall.”

Pentagon’s Statement on Border Projects

The Pentagon said in a statement, “The appearance of any project within the pool does not mean that the project will, in fact, be used to source Section 2808 [border] projects.” To make decisions about the use of military construction funds, the Joint Staff and U.S. Northern Command will examine a project list of specific border barrier construction projects provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and will conduct a mission analysis on which border barrier projects would support the use of the armed forces. This analysis will help determine the border barrier projects the Department of Defense might undertake and the level of funding required.

One situation that might prevent the need to divert any DoD construction funding is budget approval. According to the Pentagon, “Decisions have not yet been made concerning which border barrier projects will be funded through Section 2808 authority. If the Department’s FY 2020 budget is enacted on time as requested, no military construction project used to source section 2808 projects would be delayed or cancelled.” Congress must pass the requested $750 billion defense budget by the October 1 deadline for the start of fiscal year 2020 for this to happen, and the likelihood is unknown at this time.

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