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Pentagon will shift an additional US$1.5b to help fund Trump's border wall

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The reprogramming comes in addition to US$1 billion the Pentagon pulled out of Army manpower accounts in March that allowed the administration to build another 80 miles of wall on the southern border.

[WASHINGTON] The Defense Department will reprogram an additional US$1.5 billion originally designated for other US military projects to help fund President Donald Trump's border wall, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday, a move decried by Democrats as a way of side-stepping congressional oversight.

The reprogramming comes in addition to US$1 billion the Pentagon pulled out of Army manpower accounts in March that allowed the administration to build another 80 miles of wall on the southern border.

Mr Shanahan, speaking outside the Pentagon, said the Pentagon will not be reprogramming any more money for the wall. But he confirmed that US$1.5 billion more will be set aside for the border that came in part from "money we were underrunning or saving or whatever terminology you want to use from Afghanistan."

"We have very smart people here in the department, and we found ways to do this without having any impact on readiness," Mr Shanahan said.

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The move was disclosed one day after the White House said Trump intends to nominate Mr Shanahan to be his defense secretary.

Mr Shanahan said he will go to the southern border with the acting Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kevin McAleenan, on Saturday, and they will examine whether the kinds of support the Defense Department is providing to DHS at the border are effective.

"I'll let you know how that goes," Mr Shanahan said.

Democratic lawmakers responded in a tersely worded letter. They said Mr Shanahan did not disclose the decision while testifying Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee's defense subcommittee and noted the timing of the White House announcement on Mr Shanahan's nomination.

"Once again, the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee," said the letter, issued by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Matters.

The lawmakers rejected Mr Shanahan's assertion that using the money for the border wall would not affect military readiness. They noted that outgoing Air Force secretary Heather Wilson said recently that the cleanup at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida following Hurricane Michael last October has been affected by a lack of money.

"We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritise a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available," the lawmakers said. "We remind you that we continue to work diligently on a supplemental appropriations bill that will provide relief to all Americans affected by natural disasters, despite the fact that the President of the United States has requested no emergency funding to address the current needs for hurricane and flood relief."

The letter concluded by noting that the lawmakers are looking forward to how Mr Shanahan intends "to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees" and the Defense Department.

The Pentagon released a statement Friday afternoon after Mr Shanahan's comments saying that the Defense Department had notified Congress that it has "agreed to undertake fence replacement on four additional projects" in and near Tucson, Arizona, and El Centro, Texas, that total more than 78 miles and US$1.5 billion.

"The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements," the statement said, without including any specifics. "This transfer of funds will not affect military preparedness, nor impact service member benefits."

WP