WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials do not know where they will chose to move almost $4 billion in new military construction funds to the money pot needed to build President Donald Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
They do know, however, where it will not come from: funds earmarked to build and upgrade military housing.
“I’ve received a number of letters. I’ve had lots of feedback: ‘Do not jeopardize the projects that are underway,’ ” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters. “There are some priorities that won’t be considered: military housing.”
Shanahan told reporters the process will be slow and deliberate in determining which projects from the fiscal year 2019 budget will be selected to be skipped to pay in support of the president’s declaration of a national emergency.
Shanahan made the comments as he flew home over the weekend from meetings in Europe to the pool of reporters traveling with him. Talk Media News is part of the larger pool and shares the on-the-record comments.
Among the quirks of shifting military construction money is the requirement that the secretary of defense must agree and certify that the new use is also in support of the military. Shanahan did not address that issue with reporters, other than saying, “I am not required to do anything.”
The $3.6 billion in military construction funds sought for the wall almost matches the $3.5 billion needed to make repairs at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The Marine Corps base was damaged by Hurricane Florence last September.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told USNI News on Sunday: “We don’t have money for that. If we have to pay that ourselves, it’ll take the (construction) budget of the Marine Corps for probably the next four years.”
The president’s declaration of a national emergency is facing a court challenge.
In addition to military construction money sought by Trump, the White House also said it would seek to use $2.5 billion in counter-narcotic funds that was approved for spending in fiscal 2019. That money also is controlled by the Pentagon.
“All of this money has been assigned for other purposes, so it really then comes to what are you going to trade off,” Shanahan told reporters.
“If I had a flowchart, it would basically start with mission analysis and then the service secretaries become involved and looking at — kind of looking at making some of those trade-offs.”