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Udall Speaks Out Against Plans For 46 Miles Of New Mexico Border Wall ... $1 Billion Transfer

on March 26, 2019 - 5:14pm

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall. Courtesy photo

From the Office of U.S. Sen. Tom Udall:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, along with every Democratic member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, pressed the Department of Defense (DOD) for information on how DOD’s transfer of $1 billion in military personnel funding to the Drug Interdiction and Counter-narcotics Activities account in order to build part of President Trump’s wall along the southern border – even though it was not approved by Congress – will impact military readiness initiatives this year.

According to new information from DOD, the Trump Administration plans to raid $1 billion in military personnel funding and spend it on 57 miles of border wall, including 46 miles worth both east and west of Columbus, New Mexico, along with two separate projects in Arizona. The transfer would use a counterdrug account to fund wall construction without authorization and contrary to Congressional direction.

This plan comes despite the fact that the majority of illicit smuggling comes via established ports of entry, and the migrant groups coming to our border consist largely groups of asylum seeking refugees from Central America and other locations presenting themselves to authorities.

Udall had the following statement regarding the plans to raid military personnel money to fund President Trump’s wall in New Mexico:

“President Trump caused a 35-day shutdown seeking over $5 billion for his border wall, and after a very difficult debate, Congress gave him a very specific amount of funding – much less than what he requested, and none of which was intended for New Mexico. Now he is violating congressional directives to raid military personnel money that targets New Mexico’s border with 46 miles of new wall.

The Department of Defense should be standing up for our military personnel and readiness needs, not allowing themselves to become a piggy bank for a President’s pet project.

“This funding raid flies in the face of Congress and I will pursue all legislative options to stop it. If the president stopped playing politics, both parties could find common ground to handle the humanitarian crisis of asylum seekers and protect our borders the right way—with well-trained people, new technology, and improvements at ports of entry where the vast majority of smuggling takes place, not an ineffective, wasteful and offensive border wall that will harm wildlife in this unique environment.”

In their letter yesterday evening to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan about this funding raid, the senators on the relevant appropriations subcommittees raised serious concerns that the diversion of funds to the president’s border wall will result in DOD allowing critical readiness initiatives to go unaddressed.

“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 reprogramming that the Department is implementing without congressional approval constitutes a dollar-for-dollar theft from other readiness needs of our Armed Forces,” the senators continued.

The senators also noted a growing list of substantial funding shortfalls, including the Air Force and Marine Corps having working drafts of more than $1.5 billion in proposals to speed cleanup and reconstruction of Tyndall Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune, which were devastated by hurricanes.

In addition to Udall, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-RI.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), John Tester (D-Mont.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif).

Last week, the Defense Department sent Congress a list of more than $10 billion worth of military construction projects around the country and the world that are at risk of being cut in order to pay for President Trump’s border wall through his unconstitutional national emergency declaration, including several New Mexico projects.

In February, Udall introduced the RAIDER Act of 2019 to prevent the president from using any funds already appropriated by Congress to construct his wall along the southern border without specific statutory authorization from Congress.  

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Shanahan:

We have received your notification of the transfer of $1 billion in military personnel funding to the Drug Interdiction and Counter-narcotics Activities account, to be used for building miles of wall on the Southwest border that was not approved by the Congress.  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. 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 reprogramming 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 our troops, providing training, maintaining their equipment, and accelerating new technologies. 

While the Department of Defense has been unwilling to share complete estimates of its readiness shortfalls for this year despite repeated requests, we are aware of substantial shortfalls that currently total $5 billion – and the list is growing.   Examples of these shortfalls include:

  • The Air Force and Marine Corps have working drafts of more than $1.5 billion in proposals to speed cleanup and reconstruction of Tyndall Air Force Base and Camp Lejeune. 
  • The Navy has annually reprogrammed large sums to address shortfalls in ship maintenance, averaging $671 million over each of the last nine years.  We believe that the unanticipated ship maintenance costs this year are at least $400 million, and could be as high as $1 billion.
  • The National Guard has a shortfall in pay and operations that, according to Department estimates provided to Congress, could total $308 million in this year.  Failure to address these costs would jeopardize National Guard drills across the country beginning this summer.
  • The Navy is currently exceeding its endstrength goals, which may result in a pay shortfall as much as $216 million.
  • The Air Force was directed by former Secretary Mattis in October 2018 to increase its fighter aircraft rates to 80 percent.  The cost of meeting this readiness directive may exceed half a billion dollars.
  • The Air Force has identified a $632 million shortfall in the next-generation of satellites to detect the launch of nuclear missiles from hostile nations.  Absent these funds, the program may be delayed by years, at a time when our adversaries are increasing their capabilities to strike the U.S. homeland.

We are seriously concerned that the diversion of funds for the border wall will cause the Department to allow readiness initiatives to go unaddressed this year.  To better understand the impacts of this short-sighted policy on our troops, we ask you to provide by April 15:

1. A comprehensive list of all shortfalls identified by the military Services and other components of the Department to date;

2. An updated list of shortfalls following completion of the Department’s mid-year budget review in the coming weeks;

3. Your funding strategy for addressing these shortfalls given your remaining reprogramming authority; and

4. A list of shortfalls that you will be unable to address this year.

We also believe the Department has not complied with section 8005 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2019, which prohibits the transfer of funds “where the item for which reprogramming is requested has been denied by the Congress.” As you are aware, the White House requested $5.7 billion for 234 miles of wall in a letter dated January 6, 2019. As Congress opposed this request for hundreds of miles of wall, the President kept major portions of the Government closed for weeks after this letter was sent. The appropriations bill which reopened Government denied major portions of this request for hundreds of miles of border wall – prompting the President to declare an emergency and order the Department to take unprecedented action to override the denial of funds for this senseless project.  As a result, the Committee has sought a legal judgment from the GAO on this matter, and we expect the Department to comply with its findings.

We look forward to your response as soon as possible.

Sincerely,


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