Some congressional members are asking the U.S. Department of Defense to return billions of dollars that former President Donald Trump diverted from local military base construction projects to fund the border wall but were never spent.
South Carolina has a sizable number of defense personnel, bases and other facilities, particularly in the eastern half of the state and the coast. Like most southeastern states, from Louisiana to Virginia, the Palmetto State can boast of having large, well-maintained naval ports, airfields, Marine Corps bases and Army posts.
Now, some congressional members from those states are asking the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to return billions of dollars that former President Donald Trump diverted from local military base construction projects to fund the border wall but were never spent.
President Joe Biden canceled the national emergency declaration that Trump and the DoD had used to justify shifting $3.6 billion from scores of domestic and overseas military construction projects. Those included a new fire station at South Carolina's Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and a new fire crash rescue station for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Of the $3.6 billion in military construction funds pulled for the border wall, $922 million was spent, according to documents obtained by McClatchy, publisher of The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. The remaining $2.67 billion was either not yet designated for a specific border wall project or unspent, according to the documents.
Members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees have reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Defense Department to see how those funds can be returned and the projects restored.
"The Armed Services Committees along with our Appropriations colleagues work with the Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers to understand how they are conducting the review required by the Executive Order, what the path forward is and if they need any authority, reprogramming approval or other action from Congress to restore funding to the original authorized military construction projects," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said in a statement.
The USACE halted construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border soon after President Biden's inauguration and subsequent executive order, which ended the national emergency declaration set by Trump.
After push back from Congress, funding for some of the cut projects was restored, but not for all of them.
"I am hopeful that the many important projects that were sidelined, including the replacement of the Laurel Bay Fire Station at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, will now move forward in accordance with congressional intent," House Rep. Jim Clyburn from South Carolina said in a statement to McClatchy.
As of late January, there were 16 projects, ranging from a new submarine pier and maintenance facility in Washington state to a new Marine Corps battalion complex at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, for which funding had not been restored.
There also are dozens of overseas projects, including many supporting U.S. operations in the Asia-Pacific region, that were put on hold.
Trump directed that the Defense Department send forces to the border with Mexico in spring 2018. Those troops were used to help lay miles of concertina wire to create a border fence and provide medical, logistical and surveillance support to border agents.
There are currently more than 3,600 troops deployed along the border, according to Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Christian Mitchell.
After the House and Senate refused to fully fund Trump's $5 billion request to build the border wall, the former president declared a national emergency that empowered him to direct the Defense Department to pull funds that had been allocated for military construction projects at bases across the United States and for drug interdiction efforts to spend on the wall instead.
As of December, approximately $15 billion had been allocated for the wall construction. The contracts have been managed by the USACE and built by civilian contractors. Former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in October that approximately 400 mi. of wall had been built along the 2,000-mi. U.S.-Mexico border during Trump's administration.
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