The Dept. of Defense’s plan to put off $3.6 billion in construction projects and shift the agency’s already appropriated funds to build sections of the southwest border wall has sparked sharp criticism from Democrats in Congress. The plan stems from President Donald Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration of an emergency on the border. Critics are expected to try to block it as Congress works on fiscal 2020 spending (see p. 4).
DOD officials, briefing reporters Sept. 3, said the transfers would affect 127 projects, with the $3.6 billion divided evenly between overseas projects and those in the U.S. and its territories.
Under DOD’s scenario, the first batch of projects to see funds shifted would be overseas. The original contract award dates are from 2019-21. Major items include $119 million for a storage facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and $95 million for a school at Camp McTureous in Japan. U.S. projects include $95 million for a U.S. Military Academy engineering center and $89 million for a pier and maintenance facility in Bangor, Maine.
The border work involves 11 projects. The largest is for $1.3 billion to build 52 miles of “pedestrian fence system” near El Centro, Calif. Elaine McCusker, DOD acting undersecretary-comptroller, said the Army Corps of Engineers would handle wall contracting and officials are aiming to begin construction in 100 to 140 days for projects on DOD-owned land.
DOD officials call the construction projects on the list “deferrals” and want Congress to fund them in 2020 appropriations. But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing military construction, said the House would not “backfill” funding projects on DOD’s list. She said Trump was “poaching from critical projects our service members and their families need, including schools.”
The funding transfer controversy is likely to play into the coming debate over 2020 appropriations. Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors vice president for government relations, says, “I can’t see how it won’t.”