Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan will start to examine projects that could be delayed or cancelled to free up funds for “border activities”.
Speaking to reporters at the close of his first overseas tour since becoming Pentagon chief last month, Shanahan said the military’s Joint Staff had been conducting a “mission analysis” on ways to deal with drugs and migrants at the border. “Based on that, we can do an assessment of what would be appropriate,” he said.
Shanahan said the department had been preparing for weeks for a potential emergency declaration.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in an attempt to circumvent Congress and redirect taxpayer money to fund hundreds of miles of barriers along the US-Mexico border.
A defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, said the military’s analysis included an assessment of where border barriers would be most effective in consideration of national security.
Shanahan said he had leeway to determine a final figure from available funds that would be used for border-related activities – $US3.6 billion from designated military construction funds. He said service secretaries would be involved in identifying affected projects.
“All of this money has been assigned for different purposes, so it comes down to: What are you going to trade off?” he said.
The defence official said it was possible though unclear whether the Pentagon would devote its entire military construction pool of $US3.6 billion to the border.
Shanahan said certain projects would not be considered, including military housing.
“We are following the law, using the rules,” he said. “We’re not bending the rules.”
White House officials plan to use $US8 billion to build fencing they say will block or discourage more immigrants.
Of that money, $US1.375 billion was approved by Congress on Thursday, to be allocated for 88 kilometres of “pedestrian fencing” along the border in southern Texas.
The White House plans to use $US600 million from the Treasury Department’s forfeiture funds account, which contains money seized by the federal government from illicit activities.
An additional $US2.5 billion would be redirected from a Pentagon program for countering drug activity, and $US3.6 billion would be moved from military construction accounts.
It is the final pot of money that White House officials said required a national emergency declaration; the White House is generally barred from moving money from one account to another without congressional approval.
Various advocacy groups and Democratic-dominated states have already indicated they will take legal action to try to stop Trump’s use of national emergency provisions to find the funds for his pet project.
Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would finance a border wall. Since becoming president, however, he has insisted the money should come from US taxpayers.