In a memo addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Patrick Shanahan, the Pentagon’s acting defense secretary, confirmed that the Pentagon had transferred $1 billion in military personnel funding to construct President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The memo noted that the Department of Defense authorized the Army Corp of Engineers to begin planning and construction on 57 miles of fencing along the southern border, as well as improving roads in Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas.
The $1 billion in funding would help “block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of Federal law enforcement agencies,” the Pentagon said.
The Pentagon cites its legal authority "to construct roads and fences and to install lighting to block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of Federal law enforcement agencies." pic.twitter.com/A6tVfOQAMA
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) March 26, 2019
Democratic senators led by Patrick Leahy (VT) and Richard Durbin (IL) condemned the move in a letter addressed to Shanahan.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself,” the senators wrote. “As a result, we have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military.”
“The 1 billion programming that the Department is implementing without Congressional approval constitutes a dollar-for-dollar theft from other readiness needs of our Armed Forces. As you are aware, each year, the military Services request billions in mid-year transfers to address unexpected shortfalls in paying for our troops, providing, training, maintaining their equipment, and accelerating new technologies.”
The rejection, however, doesn’t amount to much, as the Pentagon is permitted to continue the transfer as it sees fit.
Others also criticized the move.
This won’t fly. With all the dramatic news lately, the unconstitutional emergency declaration has been ignored. But the congressional challenges and law suits must continue.
— Michael Chernick (@mchernick13) March 26, 2019
Good to know they have an extra $1 billion lying around that they don’t need. We could really use that for healthcare, maybe to prevent Americans from dying because they can’t afford insulin?
— M Nadal (@mthenadal) March 26, 2019
And more evidence of a newly emboldened and unfettered Trump. He has started to fund his wall and now the GOP is saying nothing about separations of power. https://t.co/Ffx3IZaqiK
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) March 26, 2019
To pull the Army Corps of Engineers off crucial projects that benefit troops, their families and our communities, to build a racist vanity project is a massive waste of resources.
Worse, Trump's Pentagon has ID'd tens of billions for those projects it may kill, for the wall. https://t.co/g7dKNtztK2
— VoteVets (@votevets) March 26, 2019
You would think if someone said to the silent @GOPs Donald is taking your power they might react but they don’t realize or they don’t care. I am not sure which is worse.
— MoogaLoo22 🏳️🌈 (@Monroesmydog) March 26, 2019
The Pentagon’s move comes a week after it disclosed the list of projects President Trump wants to divert funding from to pay for his proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the list, which the Defense Department provided to Congress on March 18, the military would take the biggest hits, with dozens, possibly hundreds, of military construction projects at risk of delay or cancellation as a result of the national emergency the president declared last month.
Speaking to CNN, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buccino, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said should acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan “determine that construction along the southwest border is necessary to aid the mission of military personnel supporting the Department of Homeland Security, some projects within this pool may be used to fund up to $3.6B in barrier construction.”
The list includes projects valued at $12.9 billion that are “unobligated.” This means that construction projects have yet to be awarded. Among the projects at risk of being slashed are $41 million for repairs to a heating system at Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks, Alaska, and $17 million for a crash rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. The Pentagon has provided minimal guidance as to which of these projects would be cut, however.