In the wake of the Pentagon reprogramming $1.5 billion in fiscal 2019 funds to support President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, only the U.S. Air Force appears to be losing money appropriated for equipment updates, Defense News reported.
The funding largely comes from personnel accounts in the Air Force, Navy and Army. But the Air Force is the only service to lose funding for hardware, including nuclear and conventional weapons, surveillance aircraft updates, and space programs.
Overall, the Pentagon reprogrammed $818.465 million from FY19 defense appropriations, as well as $681.535 million from FY19 overseas contingency operations accounts, or OCO, to reach that $1.5 billion total.
Lawmakers expressed concern that the use of military resources and manpower on the southern border will damage military readiness. However, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said last week that ongoing deployments to support the Defense Department aren’t doing so, Defense News adds.
“We’ve seen no degradation to readiness,” he told Senate appropriators May 8 at a defense budget hearing. “In fact, in some cases, it’s enhanced our readiness because the troops get to perform certain functions.”
Congressional Democrats and some Republicans have objected to the administration’s use of this mechanism for funding the President’s border wall, arguing it bypasses Congress’ constitutional power of the purse. For the second time in recent weeks, the Pentagon ignored decades of precedent and carried out the transfer of funds without first consulting with the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, led a letter to Shanahan on May 10 to object to the latest instance, saying it harms hurricane cleanup at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
“We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available,” the lawmakers wrote.
They noted that Shanahan’s decision to notify Congress of the reprogramming came a day after he testified before the subpanel that oversees defense spending, and they wrote that they welcomed his views on “how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the [Defense] Department.”
The letter was also signed by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, as well as Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Brian Schatz, Tom Udall , Patty Murray, Chris Murphy, Tammy Baldwin, Dianne Feinstein and Jon Tester.