Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall

Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE has approved building 20 more miles of barriers along the southern border, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

Esper approved the Department of Homeland Security request Monday for the additional construction after contracts for the previously approved barriers cost less than expected, according to the documents.

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The Trump administration filed the notice of its decision to approve more construction as part of a lawsuit seeking to block the administration from using Pentagon funds to build President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE’s long-desired wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

A Pentagon official confirmed to The Hill that Esper had approved to the request.

Former acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanProtection of critical military benefit shows bipartisanship can work Senators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE had previously approved transferring $2.5 billion from various Pentagon accounts into a Defense Department counter-drug fund for to be used for about 135 miles of border barriers in El Paso, Texas, and Yuma and Tucson, Ariz.

After awarding contracts for seven projects, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that lower-than-expected contract costs could allow for another 20 miles of barrier, Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security, wrote in a declaration to the court.

As such, Esper approved using the remaining money from the original $2.5 billion for additional work in two projects in Yuma and one in Tuscon, Rapuano wrote.

Esper wrote in a memo dated Monday included in the court filings that he determined the requirements of the law governing Pentagon support for counter-drug activities was met and so “I have decided to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to use excess funds already provided for the construction of border barrier projects under section 284 for constructing up to 20 miles of 30-foot pedestrian fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting within Yuma Sector Projects #4 and 5 and Tucson Sector Project #4.”

The Pentagon unilaterally moved the $2.5 billion into the counter-drug fund without congressional approval, bucking decades of tradition. The move invoked the ire of lawmakers, with House Democrats now seeking to limit the Pentagon’s ability to move money between accounts. 

It also sparked the lawsuit. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration can start using the Pentagon funds on the wall while the litigation plays out.

Updated at 5:04 p.m.