Tester Slams Defense Department Transfer of $1.5 Billion to Pay for Border Wall at Expense of Armed Forces Readiness

Senator continues fight to protect Montana installations, including Malmstrom Air Force Base and Montana Air National Guard, from raiding of funds for wall

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today slammed the Trump Administration’s plan to transfer $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense funds used for disaster relief and other readiness functions to pay for a wall on the southwest border

“We have concerns that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Forces,” Tester and his fellow Democratic Defense and Military Construction Appropriators wrote. “Last week, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that cleanup operations at Tyndall Air Force Base were being impacted by a shortfall in funding. We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available. We remind you that we continue to work diligently on a supplemental appropriations bill that will provide relief to all Americans impacted by natural disasters, despite the fact that the President of the United States has requested no emergency funding to address the current needs for hurricane and flood relief.”

In March, the Defense Department sent Congress a list of more than $10 billion in military construction projects that could be delayed or cancelled in order to pay for President Trump’s border wall, including projects at Malmstrom Air Force Base and the Montana Air National Guard. Tester has called on military leaders to reject this proposal, and today’s letter calls on Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who was recently nominated as permanent Secretary, to respond to the proposal.

“We note that the decision to notify us of the reprogramming comes the day after you testified before the Subcommittee on Defense, and hours after the announcement of the President’s intent to nominate you to be Secretary of Defense. We look forward to hearing your views on how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the Department,” the Senators’ letter continued.

Earlier this month, Tester led a Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security’s budget priorities, where he pushed back on the Department’s request for $5 billion to build 200 miles of border wall at the expense of the agency’s other law enforcement missions. DHS’s 2020 budget request would increase wall spending at the expense of important priorities like cybersecurity, election security, first responders, and counterterrorism programs.

Tester recently visited the southern border to get a look at the increasingly desperate situation there firsthand. He met with Customs and Border Protection law enforcement officials, land owners, and agriculture producers to discuss the challenges they face and determine what resources are needed to secure the border in a smart, effective, and cost-efficient way.

In January, Tester was appointed to the bipartisan, bicameral Conference Committee tasked with striking a budget deal to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. The final funding legislation closely mirrored the Senate DHS Appropriations bill Tester crafted last year, providing almost $15 billion for Customs and Border Protection, including more than $600 million worth of investments in border technology.

Read the full text of the letter HERE.