Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $3.6 Billion

Weekly WastebasketDo Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $3.6 BillionPlaying fast and loose with your money.

National Security,  | Weekly Wastebasket
Sep 19, 2019  | 7 min read | Print Article

Like that mustachioed, top hat-wearing fat cat on the Monopoly board, the Secretary of Defense is playing fast and loose with your money. When you add it all up, money being “deferred” from military construction projects in the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. military bases abroad, totals $3.6 billion.

Domestically, the Secretary is snagging money appropriated for projects in 23 different states and three territories to build 174 miles of fencing along the southern border. This isn’t for a wall. According to documents released by the Secretary of Defense, every dime of this money is for fencing. And only a little more than a third of the mileage is for fencing in previously un-fenced areas.

Do you live in Alaska? Then the Pentagon is taking more than $102 million from previously approved projects to build that fence. That’s money Congress approved to improve infrastructure at military bases in your state. Some would repair the central heating system at Eielson Air Force base, among other things. But we’re sure those folks won’t mind the possibility of losing heat in Alaska this winter.

In fact, when justifying the need for these projects in 2017, the Air Force said, “Failure of boiler #2 is expected within the next 3-4 years. During typical operations, Eielson’s Coal Heat and Power Plant (CH&PP) provides all electrical power and steam heat for the base. Loss of heat and power during Eielson’s sub-arctic winters, with temperatures as low as 65F below zero, would be devastating to facilities and the missions housed in those facilities. If the situation were deemed critical enough, the base would be forced to consider evacuating facilities due to a lack of heat and power. Once closed, the facilities would freeze and require many millions of dollars of repair to return to usable condition.”

Virginia, you’re about to lose just under $90 million. Among other things that money was to replace warehouses for hazardous materials in Norfolk and Portsmouth. Don’t worry, we’re sure the old warehouses will contain whatever those hazardous materials are just fine.

Washington state, you can forget about that $88.9 million for a pier and maintenance facility at the submarine base at Bangor. The Navy’s justification documents state this project is required to support the base’s mission “to provide security escort for submarines” as they head to sea. Failure to build the new pier will result in “unnecessary days spent away from homeport occur when no pier space is available.” Because, what value do submarines have to our national security as opposed to a fence? Hmm. We’ll have to get back to you with the security value of a bunch of very expensive fencing. Add to that, the increased cost to keeping submarines at sea – both in terms of operational expense and further stress on Navy service members and families.

And North Carolina, among the projects being cancelled is an addition to the Ambulatory Care Center at a major Marine Corps facility. Your state is going to lose just over $80 million altogether. If you’re among the walking wounded, you’ll have to make do with the current building. Sorry. The Defense Health Agency, when making its request for new construction at Camp Lejeune, said the current one could service only half the number of people seeking care. It also said the facility “…in some cases lacks basic requirements such as sinks, proper ventilation, and exam rooms with doors.”

As we said earlier, the hit list includes projects in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria. In fact, Puerto Rico takes the biggest financial hit, losing roughly $400 million in approved projects.

Everyone should care about the state of U.S. military bases overseas, as well. Just because a project isn’t being built here at home doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary to improve the well-being of military service members and their families. Shockingly, eight schools for military dependents are being cancelled for the fence. One is in Kentucky and one in Puerto Rico. The rest are in foreign countries, but on U.S. bases. Again, when asking Congress to approve these new schools, the Pentagon enumerated the current risks at these schools. At just one American school in Stuttgart, Germany, “The following life safety violations include: missing exit lighting, aging fire alarm systems, doors without closers leading to corridors, and missing visual alarms.”

The actual name of the man on the Monopoly board is “Rich Uncle Pennybags.” Fittingly, he’s often shown running away with a bag of money in the crook of one arm. That’s what the Secretary of Defense is doing here – running from the scene with a bag of taxpayer dollars meant to improve the living and working conditions of our military.

If only it was just a bag full of pennies. But it’s $3.6 billion of your money.

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