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Pentagon to Defend Targeted Projects   03/26 06:24

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top defense leaders are expected to get a barrage of 
questions when they face worried lawmakers on Capitol Hill for the first time 
since the Pentagon spelled out the military construction projects that could 
lose funding this year to pay for President Donald Trump's border wall.

   A number of Congress members have already expressed unhappiness with 
Pentagon plans that could divert funding from as many as 150 projects, totaling 
more than $4.3 billion, across the country and the world.

   Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is slated to testify Tuesday at a 
House Armed Services Committee hearing along with Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman 
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Early last week Shanahan sent Congress a detailed 
list of projects that could be tapped.

   Defense officials have repeatedly said that any projects that lose funding 
this year could be refunded next year. But some lawmakers have said they oppose 
any use of military construction money for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico 

   Both the House and Senate voted to overturn Trump's declaration of a 
national emergency to use construction money to fund the wall. Trump vetoed 
that bill.

   A number of lawmakers also objected to the Pentagon's assumption that 
Congress would simply refund the affected projects next year, calling it a 
political maneuver to get Congress to pay for the wall.

   "We take our oversight role very seriously, and will act as necessary to 
defend Congress' constitutional prerogatives in this matter," said Rep. Adam 
Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House panel. He said the committee looks 
forward to hearing Shanahan explain "how he intends to pilfer the military 
construction accounts, circumvent the intended nature of the law, while 
simultaneously abusing the trust of the American people."

   Other lawmakers, such as the entire New Jersey congressional delegation, 
have written to Shanahan to defend the projects in their state. In their 
letter, they told Shanahan that they "adamantly oppose" diverting any money for 
a border barrier, adding that Congress, not the executive branch, has the power 
to appropriate funds for specific projects.

   A plan to spend $41 million at the Picatinny Arsenal's munitions disassembly 
complex in New Jersey is on the list of projects that could be affected.

   The list Shanahan sent to the Hill included more than 400 projects worth 
about $13 billion. But Shanahan has said 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.

   Shanahan has also said that projects deemed necessary for military readiness 
or other high priorities will be protected. But those haven't been identified 

   On Monday, Army Secretary Mark Esper told The Associated Press that he and 
other military service leaders will go through the list and work to protect 
critical projects.

   "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 competitors such as Russia 
and China.

   Esper added, however, that there are clearly some projects that could be 

   "I can tell you what's not a priority. It's the parking garage, the 
cemetery," Esper said, referring to two projects planned at the U.S. Military 
Academy at West Point in New York.

   The garage could be affected, but the cemetery money would not be touched 
because the contract award date is June, and would therefore be exempt under 
rules set up by Shanahan.

   At least half of the $4.3 billion in vulnerable projects would affect U.S. 
military bases overseas or in Puerto Rico and Guam. And they include a vast 
cross-section of facilities, ranging from schools and maintenance facilities to 
shooting ranges, a cybersecurity center and a military working dog kennel.

   Meanwhile, Shanahan has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to begin 
planning and building 57 miles of 18-foot-high fencing in Yuma, Arizona, and El 
Paso, Texas, along the U.S. border with Mexico. The Pentagon says it will 
divert up to $1 billion to support the Department of Homeland Security and 
Customs and Border Protection. The funding would also go toward installing 
lighting and constructing roads in those areas.


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