Pentagon shifts money from overseas projects to fill hole caused by border wall funding

The Pentagon is taking money from 19 construction projects, including several in Europe meant to deter Russia, in order to pay for construction projects stateside that had been delayed because funding was reallocated to President Trump’s border wall.

In a memo dated Monday obtained by The Hill, Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed acting Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker to take $545.5 million from projects largely outside the United States to pay for projects within the country.

Top House Democrats slammed the move in a statement Tuesday, accusing the Trump administration of “making an end run around Congress” after lawmakers refused to replenish funding Trump took from military construction for the wall.

“Even worse, Trump is doing this by canceling funding for critical European Deterrence Initiative projects that were designed to bolster real national security needs and prevent Russian aggression against American allies and partners in Europe,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the subcommittee in charge of military construction, said in a statement.

“Once again, the Trump administration is putting domestic political considerations ahead of national security, and Trump is trampling on Congress’ power of the purse in the process,” they added. “The American people deserve better, but they will only get it when congressional Republicans join us and stand up to this out-of-control president.”

Pentagon spokesman Chris Sherwood stressed in a statement that overseas projects “have not been cancelled but deferred because the projects will not be awarded until FY 2021 or later.”

Last year, Trump declared a national emergency to fund construction of his wall on the southern border after Congress did not approve as much money for border security as he requested.

As part of the national emergency, the Pentagon last year took $3.6 billion from 127 military construction projects to build 175 miles of wall.

In his memo, Esper directed funding be released for 22 projects worth $545.5 million that had been deferred because of the wall funding “to enable the execution of certain projects scheduled for award in calendar year 2020.”

He also directed an equal amount of money from 19 other projects be used “to ensure adequate funding remains available” for border wall construction.

Ten of the projects now losing money are listed as part of the European Deterrence Initiative, a fund created in 2014 to reassure U.S. allies shaken by a resurgent Russia. The projects include infrastructure to support weapons storage, aircraft, fuel storage, information systems and more in Germany, Spain, Norway and unspecified locations. The contracts were scheduled to be awarded at the end of the year or in 2021, according to the memo.

Other projects being tapped include a communications facility and a legal office at Guantanamo Bay, an air traffic control tower and a munitions storage facility in Jordan, an air traffic control terminal in Kwajalein Atoll, a superintendent’s office for the military school district in Japan, and a flight training simulator in San Antonio.

Sherwood said two of those projects, worth $23.1 million, were canceled for “reasons unrelated to the border construction effort.” Esper’s memo said the Texas project was canceled because the scope and costs increased so it was replaced with a new effort in the fiscal 2021 budget, while the Norway project was canceled because a compound became available that meets the military’s needs.

Sherwood described the other funding as a “deferral” of 16 projects worth $515.5 million “that are scheduled to award in FY 2021 or later,” with another $6.9 million coming from planning and design.

The funding was tapped to “enable previously identified projects to be executed and to ensure adequate funding remains available to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the current Section 2808 military construction effort,” Sherwood said, referring to the border wall construction.

The 22 projects that now have funding restored include a $95 million engineering center and a $65 million parking structure at the U.S. Military Academy West Point.

Another big-ticket item getting funding restored is $62.6 million for a new middle school at Fort Campbell, Ky., a project for which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had vowed to find funding.

“Building this middle school has long been one of my top priorities, and I’ve been proud to stand with the Fort Campbell community every step of the way,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “As Senate majority leader, I’m constantly looking to benefit Kentucky and to deliver for our families. Hearing from this community, I used my position in Washington to secure the federal funding for this project, and we worked together to ensure it would move forward.”

Other projects include $40 million for an information systems facility in White Sands, N.M., $37 million to relocate the hazardous cargo pad and explosive ordnance disposal range at Joint Base Andrews, Md., and $30 million for a ground transport equipment building in Arizona.

The memo also listed another 21 projects worth $538.4 for which funding is still “deferred,” including $85 million for a new MQ-9 drone training facility at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and $58 million for a pier and maintenance facility in Bangor, Wash.

Updated at 6:49 p.m.

Tags Border wall Debbie Wasserman Schultz Donald Trump european deterrence initiative Mark Esper Mitch McConnell Nita Lowey Politics of the United States United States

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