U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on border security during a Rose Garden event at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump said he would declare a national emergency to free up federal funding to build a wall along the southern border. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Photo: Chip Somodevilla
Photo: Chip Somodevilla

Trump’s wall could put NASIC’s Wright-Patt expansion at risk

Dayton regional leaders say they are worried the $61 million that Congress allocated last year for a new intelligence production center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could be at risk of being spent instead on President Donald Trump’s border wall.

Members of the Dayton Development Coalition, a regional organization that fights for Wright-Patterson and other regional projects, said the $61 million is the first of three installments in what is hoped to be a $182 million building aimed at housing NASIC, one of the gems of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The coalition confirmed Friday that the money has not yet been obligated, meaning it could be used for the border wall. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said he “strongly” believes that “securing our border should not be done at the expense of previously funded military construction projects,” adding it is “a dangerous precedent” for Trump to declare a national emergency “because Congress refuses to provide necessary funding to protect our country.”

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Turner, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, fought for the money for the new NASIC building. His office released a letter he co-signed last week to Trump last week warning that “diverting funding from ongoing or planned projects would be incredibly harmful and put us back on a path our military cannot afford to travel again after so much progress has been made under your watch.”

Said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio: “Any effort to take funding away from our military to support the President’s vanity project is reckless and irresponsible. Workers at places like Wright-Patt have already suffered enough because of President Trump’s shutdown.”

“The NASIC intelligence facility construction project at Wright-Patterson project is critically important to national security and must be funded without delay as Congress intended,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition. “Our Congressional delegation fought hard for this. Reallocating funds already approved for this project is not acceptable.

The project would be at risk if it has not yet been obligated – basically, if they haven’t hired a contractor to begin the work, said Michael Gessel of the Dayton Development Coalition. The money was spent in three parts under the premise that the project is so big it can’t be built in one fiscal year. The total $182 million for the project has already been authorized, meaning approved by the federal government, and it’s common for projects such as these to be split into a few installments, Gessel said.

While presidents have occasionally used their authority to “reprogram” or move money from one account to another within specific agencies, it’s extremely rare to move money from one federal agency to another, as Trump would do to build the wall. In order to legally do so, Trump must either declare war or a national emergency.

Last year, the House Appropriations Committee also approved $15 million for the 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Air National Guard Base. The money was allocated for the replacement and upgrading the temporary hangars that are part of the North American Air Defense Command’s mission, according to a press release issued at the time by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

Her office said that the temporary hangar shelters had reached their life expectancy and had inadequate fire suppression and design specifications to support fighter aircraft. Similarly, Rep. Tim Ryan’s office last year sent out a press release indicating that $8.8 million in military construction dollars had been approved last year for base security at Youngstown Air Reserve Station and $7.4 million for a new machine gun range at Ravenna.

Ryan’s office was trying to confirm early Friday whether those projects would be at risk.

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“This is insanity,” said Ryan. “I’m not one to run around with my hair on fire about Donald Trump, but for him to completely try to take the power of the purse away from the Congress of the United States is a power grab of immense proportions.”

He said the projects at-risk of being sent to the border wall “are the kind of projects – whether they’re in northeast Ohio or somewhere else that are part of a long-term strategic plan for the military to make sure the men and women have the kind of facilities they need.”

Far less money, he said, could’ve been spent to help stabilize some of the very countries whose immigrants are fleeing to the United States.

“If he’d put down his golf simulator and picked up his presidential briefing and read it, with a few million we would’ve been able to make sure those countries were stabilized.” Now, Ryan said, “soldiers are going to be hurt,” living in subpar housing and using subpar facilities.

Gessel said it was unclear Friday whether that project had been contracted yet.

Thursday, Kaptur said she was “deeply concerned” about Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border as justification for building a wall.

“Let me be clear: the situation at the border is not a national emergency,” she said, saying border crossings are down to one-fifth of what they were in 2000, and many of those crossing the border are women and children who do not pose a threat to national security.

Kaptur, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that deals with Army Corps of Engineers projects, criticized Trump’s plans to use money from that pot of money as well as from military construction dollars.

““We also cannot allow the President to pick the pockets of DOD, canceling high-priority military construction in communities at home and abroad, thereby eroding training, readiness, and quality of life for our troops,” she said.

Emily Benavides, a Portman spokeswoman, said “Rob is a strong supporter and advocate for Ohio’s military facilities and research institutions and will work to ensure that key military construction projects at these strategic facilities can continue to move forward.”

By contrast, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said he supported Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency.

“I would have preferred for Congress to find a legislative solution to securing our border, but the President has taken action, and I support that action,” he said. “I believe there is unused money to be found for construction from previous years - funds that were not spent on past projects - and therefore current projects would not be impacted. I am hopeful that unused funds are prioritized because ongoing, innovative efforts at bases including Wright-Patterson must be protected.”

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