Lawmakers on the Hill want to know if President Trump’s declared national emergency could affect key military construction projects, including future basing for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Trump announced Friday his intent to use a combination of funding sources to build additional barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, including $3.6 billion in military construction, or MILCON funds. He also plans to use the $1.375 billion approved by Congress Thursday evening via a compromise spending bill, along with $600 million in drug forfeiture funds via the Department of the Treasury and about $2.5 billion from DoD drug interdictions.
Specifically, Trump invoked section 2808 of title 10, United States Code, to authorize “the Secretary of Defense, and at his discretion, the Secretaries of the military departments, to exercise the authority under that section to engage in emergency construction as necessary to support the use of the Armed Forces and respond to the crisis at our southern border,” according to a letter he sent to congressional leaders Friday.
Following his announcement, House and Senate members immediately began to question which military construction projects could be targeted for border barrier funding. Rep. Debbie-Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, told CNN Friday morning that projects including defense intelligence centers, military readiness training centers and F-35 maintenance facilities and hangars are all currently up for grabs.
“Where are we going to put our F-35s?” she said. “We have to make sure that our troops are trained. Where are we going to train them if he cancels these projects?
“Congress appropriated these funds specifically for these projects,” she added.
The Air Force announced in December its plans to host three F-35 squadrons at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, by 2023. It intends to use base recovery funds to help Tyndall rebuild after Hurricane Michael devastated the base in October 2018 to tailor the site for F-35 operations, officials said (Defense Daily, Dec. 7 2018).
The service previously announced the JSF would also be based in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin. The F-35 is built by Lockheed Martin [LMT].
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and ranking member of the SASC Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, sent a letter Friday to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan requesting a list of projects that could lose funding under Trump’s emergency declaration.
He mentions in his letter that Congress appropriated $11 billion in military construction funds in fiscal year 2019, and that it will cost DoD $8 billion to re-build the facilities impacted by hurricanes last year, including the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Tyndall AFB.
Air Combat Command, which operates Tyndall, referred all comments to the Pentagon, which has not released any breakdown of projects that could be affected by the national emergency.
While Democrats on the Hill have been universally against Trump’s plan to declare a national emergency to fund his border barrier construction, Republicans have been mixed in their support, with some members stating their support for an emergency declaration but opposed to targeting military construction funds.
Armed Services Committee members including Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) have previously called on Trump not to pull from MILCON funding for the border barriers.
Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) wrote a letter to Trump Feb. 5 asking him to leave MILCON funds alone. “Diverting funds from ongoing or planned projects would be incredibly harmful and put us back on a path our military cannot afford to travel again,” the letter said.
Hudson sits on the House Homeland Security Committee. Lamborn and Turner sit on the House Armed Services Committee. Cole is vice ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on the HAC-Defense subcommittee.