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Military construction projects impacted by President Trump’s diversion of funds to the border wall

American Enterprise Institute

Ealier this month, the Pentagon followed through on the president’s promise to divert money intended for military base construction projects to help build portions of a southern border wall.

In February, President Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border, requiring the use of the armed forces and paving the way to pilfer defense dollars for an immigration problem. This was in addition to other military money that was already being taken from different accounts to the tune of nearly one billion dollars for the wall.

The Defense Department has justified this latest and most significant repurposing of funds as helpful to the military in that troops can eventually stop their current mission of assisting the Department of Homeland Security in achieving operational control of the border. But they will not necessarily leave the border. Rather, the military would shift from detection and monitoring of migrant flows and border policing to processing those that do gain entry to the U.S.

The Pentagon will halt 127 military construction projects in 23 states, 3 territories and 19 allied countries. This is to help pay for 11 border wall barriers, costing a total of $3.6 billion.

The types of projects being undertaken span 175 miles at the border and range from building new or updated older vehicle barriers to adding secondary 30-foot tall walls as reinforcements. The border barriers will be built (or restored) on a combination of Defense Department land, federal land that is not the Pentagon’s, and private property.

The impact is split about evenly between military projects in the United States and abroad. While the Defense Department left family housing and base barracks untouched in its deferments, military readiness will still be negatively impacted as a result. Highlights of the 43 base projects affected here at home include:

  • A pier and maintenance facility in Bangor, Washington.
  • Boiler replacement in Alaska whose failure is “imminent” and could cause the evacuation of an entire base, as reported by NBC News.
  • Child development center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
  • Elementary school replacement in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
  • West Coast flight simulator to train pilots in how to fight wildfires in California.

The biggest risk to military readiness is that Congress will not backfill the money given the ongoing dispute with the president about whether to build a wall at all.

The political impasse over immigration could cause this defense money to be taken and not replaced. That would do further damage to military infrastructure, which was already under strain from repeated deferments during the height of the wars.

The Pentagon bill for postponed facilities maintenance and modernization is already over $100 billion. Some buildings and projects are in such shoddy condition that officials have admitted they are not worth salvaging.

More than one-third of defense infrastructure is classified as being in “poor” or altogether “failing” condition. Diverting the funding needed to fix it will only cause the tab to grow and conditions for troops and their families to worsen.

Another risk is in Congress having some of its most critical spending and oversight authorities weakened. The White House has forced the Pentagon to reprogram money for the wall, going against Congress’ express intent for that money in law. This has created a dangerous precedent of abuse of laws by the executive branch to circumvent constitutional checks and balances. It also increases the likelihood of more stringent restrictions on an even smaller pot of flexible defense money going forward.

Additionally, while the president declared an emergency at the border which has withstood legal scrutiny, it is still a highly discretionary call. This opens the door to the next president similarly taking funds from the military for what they believe to be emergencies, such as gun violence or climate change.

The defense budget is not a piggy bank to be raided out of convenience so as to avoid making political deals on unrelated issues. In other words, politicians should not be allowed to raid it – or any other budget, for that matter – to avoid doing their jobs.

Key Takeaways:

  • A total of $3.6 billion is being diverted by the President of the United States from military construction projects to partially fund 175 miles of southern border wall barriers.
  • Of the 127 construction projects affected, roughly half are from bases and installations here in the United States and its territories. Half affect U.S. projects in allied countries, such as Great Britain, Germany and Japan.
  • While 23 states are affected in the U.S., just five account for more than half of the relevant funding. New York and New Mexico alone account for more than a quarter. Meanwhile, just three territories account for nearly 40% of domestic cuts and nearly 20% of total cuts. Puerto Rico alone accounts for a fifth of all domestic cuts.
  • States that voted Democrat in the 2016 election are most heavily impacted by the cuts. Of the five most-heavily impacted states (mentioned above), four voted blue in 2016, with the exception being Alaska. Overall, blue states lose more funding than red ones even though they represent a minority of the states affected (9 out of 23).
  • The services are not equally affected. The Air Force suffers the heaviest blow with about $1.1 billion in funding deferred. This is about twice as much as the funding cut from Army and Navy projects, each of which lose around $600 million. However, the biggest cut comes out of defense-wide projects, which lose over $1.3 billion.
  • Although base barracks and family housing were spared from the cuts, schools and other family care facilities were not. As repeatedly noted during the recent military housing scandals, the well-being of servicemembers and their families ultimately impacts readiness. Furthermore, cuts to training facilities, maintenance structures, airfield upgrades, ammunition bunkers, fuel storage, and other enabling infrastructure will have a more immediate impact on readiness.

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