Congress asks Pentagon to restore military base construction funds from border wall

A new section of border wall. (Molly O'Toole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Congress is asking the Department of Defense to return billions of dollars that former President Donald Trump diverted from local military base construction projects to fund the border wall and was never spent.

President Joe Biden canceled the national emergency declaration that Trump and the Defense Department had used to justify shifting $3.6 billion from scores of domestic and overseas military construction projects. Those included a new fire station at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina and a new fire crash rescue station for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Of the $3.6 billion in military construction funds pulled for the border wall, $922 million was spent, according to documents obtained by McClatchy. The remaining $2.67 billion was either not yet designated for a specific border wall project or unspent, according to the documents.

Members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees have reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Defense Department to see how those funds can be returned and the projects restored.

“The former administration robbed billions from military construction projects that would have supported military readiness, quality of life, and deterrence of national security threats abroad,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said in a statement.

“The Armed Services Committees along with our Appropriations colleagues work with the Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers to understand how they are conducting the review required by the Executive Order, what the path forward is and if they need any authority, reprogramming approval, or other action from Congress to restore funding to the original authorized military construction projects,” the Washington Democrat said.

The Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border last week following President Joe Biden’s executive order, which ended the national emergency declaration set by Trump.

After pushback from Congress, funding for some of the cut projects was restored, such as a new schoolhouse for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but not for all of them.

“I am hopeful that the many important projects that were sidelined, including the replacement of the Laurel Bay Fire Station at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, will now move forward in accordance with congressional intent,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a statement to McClatchy.

As of January, there were 16 projects, ranging from a new submarine pier and maintenance facility in Washington to the expansion of a new missile field in Alaska to a new Marine Corps battalion complex at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, for which funding had not been restored.

“Each year, Congress works with the Department of Defense to fund priority military projects that are imperative to our national security – including at Naval Base Kitsap. That’s how the process works,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash. “The project in our region, which has the potential to create jobs in Kitsap County, supports critical missions that protect America – and should receive the funding that has previously been allocated by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”

There are also dozens of overseas projects, including many supporting U.S. operations in the Asia-Pacific region that were put on hold, including new aircraft hangars at Yokota Air Base in Japan and a new machine gun range for Naval Base Guam

Trump directed that the Defense Department send forces to the border with Mexico in spring 2018. Those troops were used to help lay miles of concertina wire to create a border fence and provide medical, logistical and surveillance support to border agents.

There are currently more than 3,600 troops deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christian Mitchell.

After the House and Senate refused to fully fund Trump’s $5 billion request to build the border wall, the former president declared a national emergency that empowered him to direct the Defense Department to pull funds that had been allocated for military construction projects at bases across the United States and for drug interdiction efforts to spend on the wall instead.

The military construction funding supported wall construction projects for entry in the El Paso and Laredo border control sectors in Texas, Yuma sector in Arizona and El Centro and San Diego sectors in California.

As of December, approximately $15 billion had been allocated for the wall construction. The border wall contracts have been managed by the Army Corps of Engineers and built by civilian contractors. In October, former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said about 400 miles of wall had been built along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border during Trump’s administration.


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