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Democrats gird for another fight over use of Pentagon funds for border wall construction

Washington Examiner

Washington, January 22, 2020
The letter is signed by Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; California Rep. Gil Cisneros; Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar; New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill and 27 other Democrats.

DEAR SECRETARY ESPER: A group of 31 House Democrats have fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper objecting to the Trump administration's plans to once again use military construction and counter-drug money to fund border barriers, and demanding a detailed justification for each project.


“There is clearly no requirement for the use of military resources to construct a border wall,” the lawmakers write, noting that the number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is down 30% so far this fiscal year. “The number of apprehensions over the last two years remains lower than any two years of the George W. Bush administration.”

SPEND THE MONEY YOU HAVE: The Democrats argue that almost $2 billion in Pentagon funds reprogramed for border wall construction last year remains unobligated. “Yet, it is being reported that the Department of Defense will be ordered to redirect an additional $7.2 billion towards construction of the wall.”

“This would bring the total amount of Department of Defense funding to a total of $13.3 billion in transfers - more than the full unit acquisition cost of a Ford-class aircraft carrier, the entire research and development cost for the Columbia class of submarines, or the $10.6 billion to purchase 98 F-35s in FY2020,” the lawmakers write.

THE SIGNERS: The letter is signed by Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; California Rep. Gil Cisneros; Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar; New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill and 27 other Democrats.

Notably, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Washington State Democrat Rep. Adam Smith, did not sign the letter.

THE LATEST REQUEST: Last week the Pentagon confirmed it has received a formal request from the Department of Homeland Security for assistance in building fences, roads and lighting along the southwest border. “It has to be in drug smuggling corridors,” a senior Pentagon official briefed reporters. “DHS, as you know, has designated the southwest border a drug smuggling corridor.”

The Pentagon says it should take about two weeks to process the request which involves a legal review by the DoD general counsel, a feasibility assessment by the Army Corps of Engineers, a review of the effect on readiness by the joint staff, and finally identification of available funds by the Pentagon comptroller.

IT’S ALL LEGAL: Because the money comes from funds Congress designated for counter-narcotics operations, technically the initial request falls within the appropriated purpose. Plans to reprogram military construction funds fall under another law, section 2808 of the National Emergencies Act passed in 1977, which allows the diversion of funds, so long as the projects “are necessary to support such use of the armed forces” in an emergency.

In their letter, the Democrats are asking Esper for “a detailed explanation for how the proposed border wall project directly supports the use of U.S. armed forces operating at the site of proposed construction in accordance with section 2808,” and for a “full list of the installations which are delayed, modified, or cancelled due to the transfer of the funds.”

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