WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has diverted an additional $1.5 billion in Defense Department funds from various accounts in order to fund President Donald Trump’s border wall, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday.
He said the military has found a way to reprogram the $1.5 billion without harming readiness. However, he added that the Pentagon wouldn’t be diverting any more funds to the wall.
“I won’t be reprogramming any more money for the border wall,” Shanahan said. “There was a billion and a half dollars that was reprogrammed, some of it did come from money we are underrunning or saving or whatever terminology you want to use from Afghanistan. But we have very smart people here in the department and we found ways to do this without having any impact on readiness.”
Some of the diverted money will be taken from personnel accounts and an account for training and equipping Afghan security forces, according to a document provided to Congress and obtained by CNN.
The money will pay for “fence replacement on four additional projects in and around Tucson, AZ, and El Centro, TX, totaling 78.25 miles,” Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson told CNN.
The news comes as Shanahan has asked Congress for $1.8 billion in additional money for this fiscal year to help repair damage done to military installations by recent hurricanes.
The decision to reprogram money toward the border wall and not hurricane recovery was slammed by the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
“Today, the Defense Department will divert another $1.5 billion from our military to the ‘big & beautiful’ border wall,” Sen. Dick Durbin wrote on Twitter. “The Pentagon has now reprogrammed 12 times more money to the wall than for repairs at Tyndall AFB, destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We should put troops first!”
The Trump administration’s moves to divert Defense Department funds into a counter-drug account that permits the construction of border barriers has been opposed by senior law makers on Capitol Hill.
However, the Pentagon has argued that it does not need lawmaker approval to move the money around. Congress has responded by threatening to remove the Defense Department’s ability to move money from one account to another, something known as reprogramming.
“The Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee,” a group of 10 Democratic senators wrote in a letter to Shanahan on Friday.
“We have concerns that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Forces,” they added, saying that they expected this issue to come up during Shanahan’s confirmation hearings now that Trump has tapped him to be the permanent Defense Secretary.
“We look forward to hearing your views on how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the Department,” they wrote.
The Defense Department document says that the money diverted from the personnel accounts was made available due to a lack of service members entering into a voluntary “blended retirement program,” thereby freeing up incentive funds. But, the decision to tap funds for supporting Afghan troops could prove more controversial as defense officials had previously said that active military operations were unlikely to be impacted by the border wall effort.
The Defense Department document said that the Afghanistan money was freed up in part by a review that had found cost savings.