$125M for NM defense projects diverted to border wall

By:  Scott Turner

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are criticizing a Department of Defense decision to divert $125 million from projects at two state military bases to help pay for the construction of a wall on the Mexican border.

The lawmakers were informed of the decision Wednesday. It puts on hold an $85 million project for an unmanned aerial vehicle training facility at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo, and a $40 million project for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range. In all, $3.6 billion in funding for 127 defense projects inside and outside the country will be used to build 175 miles of the border wall.

The DOD said in a briefing Tuesday that the diversion would be temporary.

“I visited the current RPA (Robotic Process Automation) training facility at Holloman earlier this year,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a news release. “The building is falling apart, with some equipment being held together with duct tape. To say this facility, which supports training for 100% of the Air Force’s MQ-9 (drone) crews, urgently needs to be replaced would be an understatement.

“The White House is also threatening funding to replace an outdated testing and evaluation facility at White Sands Missile Range that was built in 1962 and recently caught on fire.”

Fellow New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall called the decision an “outrageous and reckless action by President (Donald) Trump and his administration.”

“Our men and women in uniform at Holloman, White Sands, and across our state and our country deserve better,” Udall said. “Putting a political pet project ahead of our armed forces and our national security is shameful.”

Udall was among 10 senators who sent Defense Secretary Mark Esper a letter Tuesday opposing the diversion.

“We are opposed to this decision and the damage it will cause to our military and the relationship between Congress and the Department of Defense,” the letter stated.

The senators asked for a justification for the decision.

In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., Esper said wall construction would consist of 11 projects along the border with Mexico. He said the projects will deter illegal entry and channel migrants to ports of entry. He said the projects will reduce the demand for DOD personnel and assets where the barriers are constructed and allow redeployment to other high-traffic areas on the border without barriers.

Other members of the state’s congressional delegation also criticized the diversion.

“President (Donald) Trump is robbing our service members and jeopardizing their safety to build a reckless and useless wall,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján said in a statement to the Journal. “This is just another example of his irresponsibility and further proof that he can’t be trusted to put the American people’s interests ahead of his own.”

Rep. Deb Haaland criticized the move on Twitter. She said building the wall was neglecting the military and fulfilling “a politically motivated and blatantly racist campaign promise.”

“This move will undoubtedly negatively impact military readiness,” she said.

The president’s proposed budget for fiscal 2020 would restore that money for military construction and provide an additional $3.6 billion “in case additional emergency funding is needed for the border,” then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said earlier this year.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said she was “appalled at the administration’s decision,” which “shows an alarming disregard for the well-being of our troops and the country’s military readiness.”

“Today’s decision demonstrates to the public that this administration is willing to sacrifice military readiness for political gain,” Torres Small said.