“We write to express our continued and deepening concern regarding reports that the administration is once more planning to divert billions of dollars of military funds to the construction of additional fencing and other barriers on the southwest border,” the 31 Democrats wrote to Esper in a letter obtained by The Hill ahead of its public release.
“There is clearly no requirement for the use of military resources to construct a border wall,” they added in the five-page letter.
The letter is the latest from Democrats in Congress following reports last week saying Trump would again tap Pentagon funding for the wall after lawmakers allocated less than he requested for his signature project.
As first reported by The Washington Post, Trump plans to take $3.5 billion from the Pentagon’s counterdrug programs and $3.7 billion from military construction funding.
Pentagon officials told reporters last week they had received a request from the Department of Homeland Security for about 270 miles of barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, but said they could not yet provide a dollar figure.
The additional $7.2 billion expected to be taken this year comes after Trump tapped $2.5 billion in Pentagon counterdrug funds and $3.6 billion in military construction funds last year.
In their letter, Democrats said a “significant portion” of what was taken last year has yet to be used, including $1.8 billion in military construction funds.
If another $7.2 billion is taken, bringing the total to $13.3 billion, they added, that would equal “more than the full unit acquisition cost of a Ford class aircraft carrier, the entire research and development cost for the Columbia class of submarines, or the $10.6 billion to purchase 98 F-35s in FY2020.”
The Democrats also highlighted testimony from defense officials to the House Armed Services Committee that they were “not aware of any terrorist threat” on the southern border and that most of the U.S. military forces deployed there are “engineers and cops.”
They added that they are “confounded” at how the Pentagon can be considering diverting resources to the border given the challenges the United States faces across the globe.
“These actions come as we continue to face diverse, complex and pressing security threats around the globe while trying to modernize our military and restore readiness,” they wrote in the letter, sent to the Pentagon on Friday night. “The lack of a strategy for the Middle East has led us to significantly heightened tensions with Iran, China and Russia continue to attempt to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model, North Korea remains an agitator in the Pacific, and we continue to support our allies and partners in the fight against terrorism.”
Further, they added, the transfers to the border “run counter” to the beefed-up defense budgets Congress passed in recent years to rebuild the military.
“For all the above reasons we strongly urge you to reconsider before making any decision to redirect Department of Defense resources for the construction of additional border wall,” they said.
Should money be transferred to the border, the lawmakers asked Esper for an official form justifying each project, a detailed explanation for how each project directly supports the military and the specific dates the department plans to obligate funds, award contracts and start and finish construction.
The lawmakers also asked for a full list of military installations that will be affected by the funding transfers, the effect the transfers have on the volume and seizure of drugs at the border, how much money transferred in 2019 has been spent as of Jan. 1 and the spending plan for funds transferred in 2019.
“We look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen our national defense, to support our warfighters and to ensure we are realizing the most value from each taxpayer dollar appropriated to the Department of Defense,” they concluded.