Washington • Two projects at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden totaling $54 million will be delayed as President Donald Trump steers Pentagon money to help pay for a new U.S.-Mexico border wall, the Defense Department announced Wednesday.
Trump’s emergency order will divert $26 million slated for a new Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Facility and another $28 million for the Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center, according to Utah’s senators who had urged the Pentagon to leave Utah’s planned projects alone.
The two facilities were set to be built next year, though now will not be constructed unless Congress again sets aside money for them.
Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both Republicans, said they had raised concerns about diverting funds needed for the critical military construction projects in Utah. The Pentagon on Wednesday informed Congress which projects would lose funding.
“I’m disappointed that despite those concerns, two key military construction projects totaling $54 million will be delayed as a result of the February 2019 emergency declaration,” Romney said in a statement. “Funding the border wall is an important priority, and the Executive Branch should use the appropriate channels in Congress, rather than divert already appropriated funding away from military construction projects and therefore undermining military readiness.”
Lee said the president’s move underscores the need for his legislation, which limits powers given to the White House under the National Emergencies Act, which Trump used to take defense funds for his wall that Congress wouldn’t fund.
“Congress has been ceding far too much power to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, who represents the Hill area, said he wasn’t concerned and blamed Democrats for causing the problem.
“Border security is an important aspect of defending our nation and a border wall will help us reach the goal of full operational control. Congressional Democrats have supported border security in the past, and if they had not opposed border security for purely partisan purposes recently, we would not be in this position today. These military programs are critically important for our national defense. This is a delay, not a cancellation, and I expect them to recommence soon.”
The Utah projects are among those being cut around the world to divert $3.6 billion from the Defense Department to fund a border fence. The list includes projects in 23 states, three territories and 20 others around the world.
The president on Wednesday defended his move and said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is supportive because he sees the surge of immigrants and asylum seekers at America’s southern border as a national security risk.
“I do, too,” Trump said. “When you have thousands of people trying to rush our country, I think that’s [a] national security [issue]. When you have drugs pouring into our country, I view that as [a] national security [issue].”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, “Congress shouldn’t allow the president to build his border wall on the backs of our troops,” and urged the Senate to pass a resolution to block this “unconstitutional action.”
“The decision by the administration to divert funds from military construction projects in order to build the president’s ill-conceived wall is irresponsible,” Feinstein said. “Congress appropriated these funds for specific military construction projects, and that’s how the funds should be used.”