Pentagon to redirect $2.2B in border wall funds back to military projects
The Pentagon will restore $2.2 billion to military construction projects that were stripped by the Trump administration to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Defense Department announced Friday.
The money will go to 66 projects in 16 countries, 11 U.S. states and three U.S. territories in fiscal 2021, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks wrote in a memorandum.
Among those is $79 million for an elementary school for children of military personnel in Germany, $94 million for another such school in Japan, $50 million for a Marine Corps machine gun range in Guam, $10 million for a missile field expansion at Fort Greely, Alaska, as well as numerous other schools, hangars, housing, shops and facilities.
The Biden administration in late April announced it would cancel border wall projects that had been funded through the Defense Department and return the funds to the military construction projects from which they were pulled during the Trump administration.
Former President Trump had diverted billions in Pentagon construction, weapons and counterdrug funds — including $3.6 billion in construction dollars — toward building the wall, using emergency powers after Congress refused to fully fund the project directly.
But President Biden in his first day in office canceled the state of emergency Trump had declared along the southern border and paused construction on the wall in order to conduct a review.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday that of an original 123 projects that had been stripped of their funds, the money meant for more than 50 of those had already been used for the border wall.
The 66 remaining projects will receive funds that were not yet spent.
Kirby said the department determined which projects were going to get a piece of the $2.2 billion after speaking with Pentagon and service leaders as well as operational commanders.
“We did this all across the department to make sure we chose those carefully,” he said.
He added that the money is meant for military construction projects and would not go toward any research and development or buying weapons or equipment.
It is unclear whether the Pentagon will have to pay any penalties to get out of any border wall contracts, and Kirby said he was “not aware” of such fines.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers head Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon told lawmakers this week the Department of Defense (DOD) is in the midst of canceling 20 contracts for border wall construction.
“We have 20 contracts that we’ve terminated for the government’s convenience. And we’re in negotiations now with each of those 20 vendors to work through what those final bills will be,” Spellmon told the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee Wednesday.
Kirby also said he did not have information on the $2.5 billion Trump took from the department’s counterdrug funds or whether a portion of the money would be returned as with the construction dollars.
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell later said the funds ran through this year but had expired, adding the DOD “has no mechanism to recapture these funds made available for border barrier projects.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced separately that it will redirect border wall funds appropriated directly to its agencies to repair infrastructure damaged by wall construction.
“In doing so, DHS will prioritize the remaining border barrier funds to address and remediate urgent life, safety, and environmental issues resulting from the previous administration’s border wall construction,” reads a DHS release.
According to the release, DHS will prioritize repairing breaches along the Rio Grande Valley Levee System in Texas, where the Trump administration excavated along the region’s flood mitigation system.
A similar project will address soil erosion near San Diego, where DHS claims “improper compaction of soil and construction materials” along border wall construction sites is causing dangerous erosion that could affect border communities.
And DHS will review environmental and remediation strategies for abandoned construction sites that don’t present an immediate danger, with input from local residents and community leaders, including tribal communities affected by border wall construction.
More than 340 miles of border wall had been built since 2019 using Pentagon dollars, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.