Policy

Child care centers, cybersecurity facility among Pentagon projects delayed for wall

Funds diverted from military construction to border barriers under Trump's emergency declaration

A section of border barrier stretches through the Rio Grande Valley sector of the Texas-Mexico border. (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call)

Pentagon officials briefed lawmakers Wednesday on which military construction projects previously approved by Congress would be delayed so the Trump administration can instead use the money to pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The list includes child care centers, roads, at least one cybersecurity facility and more, members of Congress said in statements. A copy of the list provided to CQ Roll Call by a congressional office also includes facilities at military bases hit by hurricanes, such as Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, as well as school construction.

[Pentagon to begin diverting construction funds for border wall]

President Donald Trump has invoked emergency statutory authority to use military construction funds for border construction. The emergency, he has said, is the flow of immigrants across America’s southern land border.

Trump had asked the Defense Department to identify projects that could be deferred to divert $3.6 billion toward constructing border barriers. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that 127 such projects would see their funding from fiscal 2019 or earlier reduced for that purpose.

[Border emergency hits six months; ball back in Congress’ court]

The list obtained Wednesday includes 43 projects in 23 states and 21 projects in three U.S. territories — the appropriations for which amounted to about $1.8 billion. It also includes 64 other projects in at least 19 countries plus some undisclosed locations, valued at about the same amount.

The military construction efforts at domestic and overseas installations are merely being deferred, officials said, because the money will be repaid if Congress provides funds to “backfill” the accounts. Pentagon officials also said an effort would be made to get other countries to chip in to backfill the money cut from overseas projects.

Wall DOD lawmaker impact-01

Democrats and perhaps even some Republicans will be loathe to provide those funds after Trump circumvented Congress. The issue is shaping up as a stumbling block to enactment of Pentagon spending legislation this fall.

[Senate GOP plans to divert health, education funds to border wall]

The Pentagon did its best to reduce the adverse impact of the reductions, a senior official not authorized to talk on the record about the issue told reporters Wednesday.

All of the projects were scheduled to have contracts awarded in fiscal 2020 or later, the official said. No family housing or barracks were included on the list. Funding was cut only for projects where an existing capability or temporary solution was available to mitigate the delay, the official said.

“All of these programs are important,” the official said.

The official nonetheless acknowledged the controversy surrounding the administration’s action.

“We have heard a lot of concerns about that approach,” the official said. “We intend to work closely with Congress.”

But, the official added, “We have been given a lawful order by the president to respond to this crisis, and we’re doing that.”

‘Ineffective, xenophobic’

Democrats, in particular, have been critical this week of the Trump administration’s moves.

The list of 127 targets for cuts includes at least two facilities in Maryland — $13 million for a child care center at Joint Base Andrews and nearly $17 million for roads near Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency, according to a spokesman for Maryland Democratic Rep. Anthony G. Brown, an Armed Services Committee member.

“President Trump should not build his ineffective, xenophobic vanity project on the backs of our service members and military families,” Brown said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Democratic senators said in a statement that the Defense Department will move to border construction accounts some $23 million that had been slated for a warship maintenance facility in Portsmouth, plus nearly $19 million to replace a hazardous materials warehouse in Norfolk and $10 million for a cyber-operations facility at Joint Base Langley-Eustis near Newport News.

“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,” said Sen. Mark Warner.

“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,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

Also on Wednesday, Republican Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, also a member of the Armed Services Committee, disclosed that some $30 million that had been tagged for constructing a building for ground equipment at Fort Huachuca in her state would be delayed. McSally said in a statement that the project was already delayed for an environmental cleanup. She said she is concerned about that delay, not the use of the funds for border barriers.

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