Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.
On February 13th, the Pentagon transmitted a formal reprogramming request to take more than $3.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2020 funding from military programs at the Pentagon to waste on the president’s much trumpeted but not-actually-being-built border barrier. (It’s not a wall, it’s a fence. But we’ll compromise and refer to it as a barrier.)
Of that total, $2.2 billion is being transferred from the Pentagon’s “base” funding accounts to another part of the Department of Defense, “Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities.” However, the reprogramming document explicitly states the “Funds are required to provide support for counter-drug activities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” In other words, not for a DoD priority.
The second tranche of funding, $1.6 billion, is being taken from the so-called Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts of DoD. Again, the document states the funds are actually for DHS activities. The OCO account is a well-known slush fund that is kept “off-budget” to allow DoD to exceed the budget caps put in place by Congress. So, we’re of two minds on this issue at TCS. On the one hand, we’re glad to have the leaders at the Pentagon point out that these funds are not actually necessary for any legitimate contingency overseas. If these funds were needed for an actual warfighting purpose, do you believe the Pentagon would cavalierly offer them up to DHS? Color us skeptical. But, on the other hand, we strongly believe the Executive Branch should follow the decisions of the Legislative Branch on spending matters. The Executive provides input on what goes into the spending bills and ultimately can veto them if they disagree.
This, of course, is not the first time the Trump Administration has taken money from DoD to pay for a DHS priority. We’ve written about it quite a bit. There are several issues, as we just pointed out some of them are Constitutional, at play here. First, the Constitution gives Congress the power to make decisions on how federal funds are spent. The president proposes a budget and the Congress makes the final decisions, laid out in the relevant appropriations legislation. These reprogramming requests must receive Congressional approval before the administration can move the money. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Last year, we were particularly disturbed that military construction appropriations made by Congress to provide for safe and secure military bases and schools for U.S. dependent children overseas and here in the U.S., were targeted to pay for a border fence. When Congress didn’t go along with the reprogramming request, the president just declared an “emergency” and moved the funds anyway. This was the only way to get around the requirements of the Antideficiency Act which codifies the Constitutional prerogative of Congress when it comes to appropriating funds. This statute prohibits the federal government from spending money in advance or excess of enacted appropriations.
In this latest raid on money the Congress has appropriated for the Pentagon, among the things being sacrificed are two Marine Corps F-35s because “current funding is more than sufficient to keep the production line open and meet requirements.” Really? No kidding. That’s what happens when Congress adds 20 airframes to your budget request – Pentagon wide. Also targeted, more than $800 million in Advance Procurement for the Air Force F-35.
And one of the last bastions of Congressional earmarking, the National Guard and Reserve Equipment fund is being raided for $1.3 billion. We won’t shed any tears over that from a policy standpoint, but the president’s actions are still an assault on the Constitutional powers granted to the Congress.
We’ve said this a few times, if the Pentagon topline has so much slack that it can be raided for billions of dollars for a DHS program, it’s time to have “that talk” about Pentagon spending.