KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE – Restoring defense projects funding that was diverted to a border wall is easier said than done, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said during a tour of Kirtland Air Force Base on Wednesday.
The Department of Defense promises funding for the projects – including $125 million for two projects in New Mexico – would be included in the fiscal 2020 budget.
But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., along with U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., voiced concerns that the money would have to be diverted from other projects to accomplish the feat.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Haaland said.
She and fellow New Mexico Democrat U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small accompanied Smith on tours of the Air Force base and White Sands Missile Range Tuesday and Wednesday.
“There is not an infinite amount of money,” Smith said. “We reached a budget deal. And the budget deal was reached with the president. The House and Senate put aside $738 billion for defense. He (President Donald Trump) just took $6.1 billion (including $3.6 billion from defense projects) of that to build his wall. Let’s say they take money from another place. They’re going to be stealing it from somewhere. There is no simple way to say, ‘Poof, here’s $6.1 billion.’ ”
He, Haaland and Torres Small believe diverting the funding to build the border wall impedes military missions.
“Using funds that are already allocated is an issue across the board,” Smith said. “How do we support our readiness?”
Smith got a look at a facility that is losing funding for planned upgrades. At White Sands Missile Range, he toured the information systems facility, which was due to be replaced in a $40 million project that is now on hold.
“It could not be more crucial,” he said of a building that Torres Small said is heavily damaged. “All of the data they pull is from the techno-missile testing they are doing. … There’s a lot of technology, a lot of bandwidth. They really need to upgrade that facility to successfully do their mission and now that mission is on hold until they find that $40 million.”
In a press call from White Sands on Tuesday, Torres Small said she is concerned about the loss of $85 million from a project to build an unmanned aerial training facility at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamogordo. She said the current facility poses safety risks for airmen training there, and that there is a large sinkhole at the facility.
Smith said the diversion forced lawmakers to decide what is more important: DOD projects or a border wall.
“We are all in favor of securing our borders,” he said.
But he and Torres Small question the Trump administration’s strategy of the border wall.
“We need a mile-by-mile analysis,” said Torres Small, whose district includes all of the state’s border with Mexico. She said the nation needed a “strong, smart strategy” to secure the border, noting there is still a shortage of border agents despite allocations to fill some of the positions.
Smith toured the southern portion of White Sands and observed survival training for helicopter crews. His tour of Kirtland included the Air Force Research Lab, the National Guard staging area and the solar grid project. He toured Los Alamos National Laboratory later in the day.