USAF Takes Big Hit as DOD Reprograms Funds to Pay for Border Wall

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan are greeted by US Customs and Border Patrol Deputy Chief John Morris, Director of Southern Operations CBP Carlos Rodriguez and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) upon arrival at the McAllen Border Patrol Station, in McAllen, Texas, on May 11, 2019. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.

The Air Force is taking the biggest hit of all the services as the Pentagon reprograms funds to build a wall along the southern border, with about half of the procurement costs coming from appropriated USAF projects.

The Pentagon announced May 10 it is reprogramming about $1.5 billion from appropriated operations and maintenance and overseas contingency operations funding to build 78.25 miles of fencing in four projects around Tucson, Ariz., and El Centro, Texas. That includes $818.5 million that will be moved from fiscal 2019 appropriated funding, including $402.3 million from USAF programs, and $681.5 million that will be pulled from overseas contingency operations funds.

These funds “were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes, and revised requirements. This transfer of funds will not affect military preparedness, nor impact service member benefits,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

However, the Defense Department could have chosen to move the funds to other efforts, such as the rebuild of Tyndall AFB, Fla., or Offutt AFB, Neb., both of which were badly damaged by storms and require additional funding from Congress.

When asked on May 13 whether Tyndall’s recovery could be funded by the money that would be shifted toward border security, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said, “The funds that the Defense Department used from the Air Force accounts were funds that were not executed. Money is fungible, so the real question is whether the Congress is going to help us with a supplemental for a disaster that happened in October of last year.”

The following programs will be affected by the reprogramming:

  • A combined $56.7 million from pay and allowances to Active Duty officers, as well as National Guard and Reserve personnel thanks to “lower than expected” Thrift Savings Plan automatic and matching contributions because of fewer opt-ins from the legacy retirement system.
  • $57 million from delayed E-3 AWACS Diminished Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation (DRAGON). This effort removes obsolete parts and ensures compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards. The upgrades are delayed because aircraft have not been available for depot maintenance at the expected rate, and Block 40/45 upgrades have to be completed before the DRAGON system can be installed.
  • $23 million from reduced cost of Hellfire missiles, “due to contract savings that provide precision kill capabilities.”
  • $24.3 million from Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile progra,. The production schedule for the launch control block upgrade program has slipped to fiscal 2020 due to late design changes.
  • $29.6 million from Air-Launched Cruise Missile procurement. These funds are available “due to contract savings from reduced guided missile flight controller modification requirements,” in turn caused by a lack of executable requirements for support equipment.
  • $208.9 million from removing a Space Test Program-4 satellite from the launch schedule as the mission is no longer needed.

The largest chunk of the $681.5 million OCO reprogramming is a cut of $604 million to the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, including $71.9 million that was scheduled to go to the Afghan Air Force. Forward funding from the 2018-2019 Afghanistan Security Forces Fund and cost savings from a contract review freed up those funds, according to the reprogramming request.

The reprogramming received swift retribution from Capitol Hill, including a May 10 letter from 10 Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Defense Committee to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan saying it shows “the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee.”

“We have concerns that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Force,” the letter states. “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.”

Shanahan, speaking May 13 on Fox & Friends, said the reprogramming comes from an order from the White House.

“We have a crisis at the border, a national emergency declared by the President,” Shanahan said. “The Commander-in-Chief has given me a direct legal order to secure the border. I’m securing the border.”