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Budget fails to restore funding for NM projects

The sun rises over an MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base in 2016. The 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron supports the 6th Reconnaissance Squadron as well as the 9th and 29th Attack Squadrons. (J.M. Eddins Jr./ Us Air Force)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Despite promises to do so, President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget for the Department of Defense fails to restore $3.6 billion in funding for 127 defense projects diverted last year to build 175 miles of the wall on the border with Mexico, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich’s and Tom Udall’s offices said.

That former funding includes $125 million for two projects at Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo and White Sands Missile Range in the southern part of the state. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had promised the funding would be included in the next year’s budget.

“We’re still waiting to hear how the funding will be restored,” U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., said in a phone interview with the Journal. “It will probably take a congressional appropriation to restore it.”

Both projects put on hold are in the 2nd Congressional District that she represents. The diversion put on hold an $85 million project for an unmanned aerial vehicle training facility at Holloman Air Force Base and a $40 million project for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range.

Torres Small said the current unmanned aerial vehicle training facility at Holloman used for pilot training is in pretty bad shape and is threatened by a sinkhole. She and Heinrich have said the facility also has plumbing and electrical problems. The current information systems facility at White Sands – which was built in 1962 – was recently damaged by fire. Torres Small said the missile range could fall behind on its testing requirements and the nation’s security put at risk if the project does not go through.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it intended to shift another $3.8 billion from the DOD for additional wall construction from funding for aircraft and ship construction, as well as funding for National Guard projects. Udall spokeswoman Annie Orloff said the newest diversion was not site specific.

Udall was among seven Democratic senators sending a letter to Esper objecting to the newest diversion.

“The raid on this funding is quite simply an attack on the efforts to ensure our citizen-soldiers are prepared to respond to disasters, both overseas and in nearly every community in all fifty states and four territories,” the senators wrote.

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland – a member of the House Armed Services Committee with Torres Small – also criticized the move.

“Our military service members need the proper tools to protect our country, but this administration is putting them at risk to pay for his wasteful border wall, again,” she said in a release.

The administration said the diversion of funds was in support of higher priority items that were necessary in the national interest, according to the notice transmitted to Congress.

It said the Department of Homeland Security had “identified areas along the southern border of the United States that are being used by individuals, groups, and transnational criminal organizations as drug smuggling corridors, and determined that the construction of additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border is necessary in order to impede and deny drug smuggling activities.”

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