Congress

Pentagon moves $1.5 billion more to border wall

Senate Democrats, led by Durbin, are contesting the decision

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., is the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 4:02 p.m. | The Defense Department is taking $1.5 billion from what officials there are calling lower-priority programs and redirecting it toward projects aimed at securing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Pentagon budget document.

The shift brings to $2.5 billion the amount of defense money diverted to date for the border wall project, with up to $3.6 billion more to come from military construction projects under President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration issued in January.

The latest $1.5 billion budget maneuver was detailed in a Thursday Defense Department reprogramming request obtained by CQ Roll Call. The money would be moved into the Pentagon’s counter-drug account; Trump can use existing statutory authority to take that money, but it’s short on funds and therefore needs a cash infusion first.

The money is needed, the document says, for “higher priority items based on unforeseen military requirements” — including fencing, roads and lighting — and is “necessary in the national interest.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced the move Friday and said the money would be used to build some 80 miles of border wall.

“The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements, and therefore will have minimal impact on force readiness,” Shanahan said in a statement.

Democrats, notably including Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, are not pleased with the budget shift.

“Today, the Defense Department will divert another $1.5 billion from our military to the ‘big & beautiful’ border wall,” Durbin tweeted Friday. “The Pentagon has now reprogrammed 12 times more money to the wall than for repairs at Tyndall AFB, destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We should put troops first!”

The entire Democratic membership of the Defense and Military Construction-VA subcommittees joined Durbin in a letter to Shanahan criticizing the move.

“In addition to the unilateral process being used for the second time in two months, we have concerns that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Forces,” the senators wrote Friday. “We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available.”

The Democrats also took umbrage at the fact Shanahan made the announcement the day after testifying on the Pentagon budget request.

The $1.5 billion was moved from a number of different programs into the Pentagon’s counter-drug account. The Pentagon document says the Department of Homeland Security needs the money for projects aimed at fighting drug trafficking.

The Pentagon had previously moved $1 billion from the Army personnel budget into the counter-drug account, bringing the total moved there so far to $2.5 billion.

The single biggest bill-payer for Friday’s $1.5 billion installment was $604 million that had been appropriated for training and equipping Afghan security forces. The Pentagon document said previously unanticipated savings had been found in the Afghan program.

The second biggest source was $251 million from a program to dismantle old chemical weapons.

Other sources of funds were military personnel programs as well as missile, rocket and aircraft initiatives where money turned up due to contract savings or because delays made it unlikely the Pentagon could spend the money this fiscal year, the document says.

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