Lawmakers demand answers on reprogramming $7.2B in defense funds for border wall

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Thirty-four lawmakers are asking for answers from the Defense Department after the Trump administration announced it would take $7.2 billion in military construction and drug interdiction funds from the 2020 budget to build a wall at the southern border.

“We have a budget agreement where we are going to fund the military at near record levels so we can ensure we have a ready force,” House Armed Services Committee Vice Chairman Anthony Brown (D-Md.) told Federal News Network. “That’s what our budget reflects. Our budget doesn’t reflect, nor was it designed, to account for several billion dollars being diverted.”

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The letter, sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, asks DoD to provide a planned date for obligating funds, dates of the contract award, construction start and completion, a full list of military projects that will be delayed or canceled due to the transfer of funds and the impact on the volume and seizure of narcotics due to the transfer of funds.

“My hope is that we receive the information back from Secretary Esper, and that the administration carefully consider the impact of what they are proposing and reverse course,” Brown said. “In another three or four months we will be in the next cycle for the National Defense Authorization Act. If the administration continues on its course and diverts money away from military construction projects for a needless border wall, it would be my hope Congress will demonstrate its disapproval. The 2021 NDAA would severely restrict, if not outright prohibit, the president from diverting those funds.”

The 2020 defense authorization bill had a provision restricting the reprogramming of funds, but it was taken out in conference.

Last year, the Trump administration took $3.6 billion from the military construction and drug interdiction funds. The move was criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“It seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts,” House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said last January.

Part of the concern is that the maintenance of military facilities is falling behind. Military construction projects currently have a $116 billion backlog.

“I vividly remember touring a barracks with mold growing out of the ceiling where they had to evacuate the soldiers out of certain rooms,” Thornberry said. “We went over to see a repair facility where it was from the 1950s, where they couldn’t repair some of the vehicles indoors because it was so old. As the defense budget was cut, military construction was devastated and as much as we’ve done the last two years, we have not made up for that deficit.”

About 20% of DoD facilities are in failing condition. The Army alone needs $11 billion to get its facilities and installations in working order.

The Government Accountability Office regularly finds issues with military facilities.

“Service members we spoke with described poor conditions at some facilities, including heating and cooling system problems, leaking roofs and windows, and mold and mildew,” a 2018 GAO blog said.

The use of the $3.6 billion in military funds for the wall was held up in courts and frozen, however the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit lifted the injunction on the money and allowed work to continue while the issue is being duked out.

If the $7.2 billion is actually used, more than $18 billion will have gone to build the border wall.

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