HILL AIR FORCE BASE — More than $129 million in construction associated with Hill Air Force Base is on a Pentagon list of projects that could be delayed in order to fund and build President Donald Trump's border wall.
The list, released earlier this month, identifies 400 projects, totalling $13 billion. Which projects could be shelved to free up $3.6 billion sought under Trump's emergency declaration has not been determined.
On Tuesday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the House Armed Services Committee that any money for military housing or barracks would not be touched, as well as any projects that will have contracts awarded before the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. When those projects are removed, about 150 remain, totaling about $4.3 billion.
One of the contracts at Hill — $20 million to replace "POL facilities" — was to be awarded this month, making it off limits for border wall funding. The air force base directed all inquiries about the list to the Department of Defense, which did not respond to a request Friday for more information about the Utah projects.
Other projects tied to Hill AFB are:
• $55 million for a "D5 Missile Motor Receipt/Storage Fac."
• $28 million for a Utah Test and Training Range "Consolidated Mission Control Center."
• $26 million for a "Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Fac."
Last year, Utah GOP Congressmen Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart said they opposed the president using military money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, predicting that Congress wouldn't go along.
And House lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee this week denounced the plan as an “unbelievably irresponsible" maneuver.
“Whatever one feels about the border wall, to look at the Pentagon as sort of a piggy bank — slash — slush fund, where you can simply go in and grab money for something when you need it, really undermines the credibility of the entire DOD budget,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the panel, said Tuesday.
Pentagon officials received a similar rebuke from minority Democrats in the Senate last week when it released the list of projects potentially on the chopping block.
“What President Trump is doing is a slap in the face to our military that makes our border and the country less secure,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., according to The Washington Post. “He is planning to take funds from real, effective operational priorities and needed projects and divert them to his vanity wall.”
On Friday, Bishop, who sits on the Armed Services Committee and in whose district Hill Air Force Base is located, released a statement blaming the Senate for putting the projects at Hill and around the world in jeopardy of delay.
He said majorities in the House and Senate had agreed in December to fund the government and border security, but the possibility of a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate stalled the measures.
"Due to the looming filibuster threat and new leadership in the House, the bill wasn’t reintroduced in January," Bishop said, contributing to 35-day government shutdown over funding Trump's border wall.
When Trump didn't get the $5 billion in border wall funding in the budget bill that he eventually signed, he declared a national emergency at the border to enable him to find the money elsewhere.
"In addition to the $3.6 billion of military construction money, the administration has its eye on $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund and $2.5 billion from the DOD's counter-narcotics budget," the publication Constructive Dive reported.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Smith sent a letter from the committee to the Pentagon denying a request to shift about $1 billion in surplus personnel funds to a counter-drug account. The panel doesn’t have the legal authority to block the transfer, but could make changes in the law to block any funding shifts in the future.
In addition to opposition in Congress, more than 20 states have joined in a lawsuit against the administration to block the funding maneuver they allege is unconstitutional, so it's uncertain if emergency declaration funding will ever happen.
Shanahan told the committee he knew that maneuvering around Congress to fund the wall would have long-term negative effects on the department. But he said the department was executing a “legal order from the commander in chief.”
Army Secretary Mark Esper has told The Associated Press that he and other military service leaders will work to protect critical projects.49 comments on this story
“I will prioritize based on readiness, lethality and things like that,” he said, noting that something like a training complex could be protected if it’s designed to help soldiers face emerging threats from Russia or China, for example.
Bishop's statement said the projects at Hill are top priorities, and any delay would be temporary, not permanent.
But a number of lawmakers have objected to the Pentagon’s assumption that Congress would simply refund the affected projects next year.
Contributing: Associated Press