Lawmakers furious after learning how military will pay for wall
The Pentagon’s announcement that it will divert $3.6 billion in military construction funds to help fund President Donald Trump’s border wall has sparked bipartisan anger from lawmakers who learned Wednesday that their states will be impacted by the decision.
Domestically, just under $1.8 billion is being shifted away from projects in 23 states and three US territories.
Additionally, the Pentagon will defer more than $1.8 billion in military construction projects overseas to free up over $3.6 billion in funds for 11 wall projects on the southern border with Mexico, according to a complete list obtained by CNN Wednesday.
In total, 127 domestic and overseas projects are being put on hold to help fund the wall that Trump initially promised would be paid for by Mexico.
Among the sites affected are facilities used to store hazardous waste, repair Navy ships and conduct cyber operations, that had been identified as being in need of repair or additional construction.
Puerto Rico was among the hardest hit of all US states and territories as it will see more than $400 million in funding for planned military construction projects diverted to the wall under the Pentagon’s plan.
Trump has consistently sparred with Puerto Rican officials while he’s been in office following 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
“Most of the projects in Puerto Rico were a result of Hurricane Maria,” a senior US defense official told CNN.
“We’ve got a rebuild effort that we have ongoing here and I mentioned these projects aren’t scheduled to award for more than a year. These are projects that we have on the list something we can use now and backfill, we’ve got time to do that.”
Overseas, $771 million in projects at various locations in Europe will be impacted. These projects, including airfield upgrades and staging areas in Eastern Europe, are meant to improve the defense of US allies from Russian threats.
“All these projects are important to us but we also have to respond to the emergency we’ve been directed to respond to on the southwest border,” the senior US defense official said Wednesday.
“Projects on the list have either existing capabilities or temporary solutions to mitigate any delays, all projects on the list are important and we will work with Congress to support them,” the official said while adding that there are no “guarantees” that the money will in fact be back filled.
Defense officials said Wednesday that there is no guarantee any of the money will be replaced for domestic or overseas projects. On Tuesday, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said the Defense Department will not be seeking congressional funds to backfill the reprogrammed funding for overseas projects.
The Pentagon notified individual lawmakers from states that will be impacted Wednesday, sparking bipartisan criticism.
Utah’s Republican senators, Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, expressed their concerns in a joint statement after learning military construction funds for projects at Hill Air Force Base would be reprogrammed.
Specifically, they were told that $26 million was being diverted from Hill AFB Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Facility and another $28 million from the Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center.
“In April, Senator Lee and I expressed our significant concerns to the Secretary of Defense regarding the potential diversion of funds for critical military construction projects in Utah,” Romney said. “I’m disappointed that despite those concerns, two key military construction projects totaling $54 million will be delayed as a result of the February 2019 emergency declaration.
“Congress has been ceding far too much powers to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said. “We should start that process by passing the ARTICLE ONE Act, which would correct the imbalances caused by the National Emergencies Act,” Lee added.
Virginia’s Democratic senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, said Wednesday that the Pentagon informed them of four military construction projects in their state that will lose a more than $77 million in funds due to the Pentagon’s decision to divert that money toward building President Donald Trump’s border wall.
In Virginia, the following projects will be affected:
Cyber Operations Facility at Joint Base Langley-Eustis will lose $10,000,000. Navy Ships Maintenance Facility in Portsmouth will lose $26,120,000. A project to replace a hazardous materials warehouse in Norfolk will lose $18,500,000. A project to replace a hazardous materials warehouse in Portsmouth will lose $22,500,000.
“The decision by the President to divert funding meant to support U.S. national security interests so that he can build a border wall only makes us less safe,” Warner said in a statement. “Taking money away from our military — including funding to support critical projects here in Virginia — will mean we are less equipped to tackle threats here at home and abroad.”
“I’m deeply concerned about President Trump’s plan to pull funding from critical national security projects — including millions of dollars from important projects in Virginia — so he can build his border wall. The well-being of American troops is the core responsibility of every commander in the military, yet the Commander-in-Chief is shirking that duty so he can advance his own political agenda,” Kaine added.
West Point project impacted
New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who is the top Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, said in a joint statement Wednesday they were told by the Defense Department that $160 million in funding allocated for an engineering center and supporting structures at the United States Military Academy at West Point would be repurposed.
“The United States Military Academy at West Point was founded as an engineering school, designed to ensure that our Army’s leaders had access to the best resources and education that would enable them to succeed in their military careers in defense of our nation,” Schumer said.
“Now, we find out that funds that Congress appropriated to design and build a state-of-the-art engineering center at West Point have been redirected for an expensive and ineffective wall at the southern border,” the Senate Minority Leader added.
Gillibrand said that Trump is “now stealing money from West Point and 126 other military installation projects across the country in order to work around Congress and build this needless vanity project.”
“Diverting this defense funding eliminates mission-critical facilities, placing our national security at risk and limiting the military’s ability to compete with our country’s most powerful adversaries,” she wrote.
Despite fighting to ensure no projects in Arizona were impacted by the Pentagon’s decision, Republican Sen. Martha McSally said Wednesday that construction on the Ft. Huachuca Ground Transport Equipment Building would be deferred as a result. The project cost is $30 million, she said.
However, McSally sought to downplay the impact of the move on her home state, noting that “the lone project impacted in Arizona was already delayed due to unforeseen environmental issues at the construction site.”
“Importantly, while funding for this project was authorized and appropriated in FY19, it is no longer an FY19 project due to unforeseen environmental issues at the construction site,” she said in a statement.
“The Army had to complete a major environmental cleanup before the actual construction project could be awarded. At the earliest, this pushed the award back to summer of FY20. The environmental cleanup is expected to continue until August 2020,” McSally wrote.
Space control facility loses funding
A Space control facility at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado will also be impacted, according to Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
“President Trump’s selfish decision to raid military construction funding is a new low in his ridiculous pursuit of a campaign promise. These projects, including the Space Control Facility at Peterson Air Force Base, were identified by the Department of Defense and the Trump Administration as critical to our military readiness. Taking money from operational priorities to pay for a wasteful and ineffective wall is grossly irresponsible and undermines our national security,” he said in a statement.
Defense Department officials say 127 military construction projects are being put on hold in order to use the $3.6 billion to fund building 175 miles of southern border wall.
Of the 11 projects approved by the Secretary of Defense, six involve federal property, totaling approximately 94.5 miles, and five involve non-federal property, totaling approximately 81 miles, according to Pentagon spokesperson Chris Mitchell.
Four of the projects are located in Yuma, Arizona; two are in San Diego, California; two others are in El Paso, Texas; and the final project is in Laredo, Texas, Mitchell said Wednesday.
Construction is expected to begin in about 135 days in areas where the federal government already owns the land along the border, including the Department of Defense’s Barry M. Goldwater test range in Arizona, according to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Comptroller Elaine McCusker.
McCusker said projects on private land could go past 2020 due to issues involved with land acquisition.
According to chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman, half the money is coming from deferred projects overseas, and the other half were planned for projects in the US.
The money originally intended for overseas projects will be tapped first.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed reporting