Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has signed off on plans for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reprogram funds for up to $1 billion of infrastructure work on the U.S. southern border in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon announced Monday night.
The news comes more than a month after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency regarding security at the border, a move that allowed for the reallocation of DoD funds to border protection.
"These funds will be used to support DHS's request to build 57 miles of 18-foot-high pedestrian fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border in support of the February 15 national emergency declaration on the southern border of the United States," defense officials said in a statement.
It's not made completely clear whether this fencing is a part of the permanent border wall the president has called for -- a fight over funding for which led to an impasse that triggered a partial government shutdown earlier this year.
The Pentagon's statement added that the Defense Department had the authority to build roads and fences and install lighting to block drug-smuggling corridors in support of federal law enforcement agencies' counter-narcotics activities.
In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed today, Shanahan said the specific border sections had been identified by DHS as drug-smuggling corridors, and the work requested by the department fell within the statutory description. He noted that the installation of lighting would include embedded cameras.
"As the proponent of the requested action [U.S. Customs and Border Patrol] will serve as the lead agency for environmental compliance and will be responsible for providing all necessary access to land," Shanahan wrote. "I request that DHS place the highest priority on completing these actions for the projects identified above."
Planning for the work is authorized to begin immediately, Shanahan wrote. He added that additional support from the military for border projection was a possibility, "subject to the availability of funds and other factors."
Trump's recently released fiscal 2020 budget request included some $8.6 billion for the border wall project. About $3.5 billion of that is set to be reprogrammed from planned military construction projects, and $2.5 billion from existing counter-narcotics programs. The Pentagon hasn't said which military construction, but officials on March 18 released a list of unawarded projects adding up to nearly $6.8 billion that could be diverted for the border effort.
Trump's controversial national emergency declaration has seen stiff resistance from Congress; both the House and Senate voted to disapprove the president's national emergency, prompting the first veto of the Trump presidency. A veto override vote is set for Tuesday in the House, but it is not expected to get the two-thirds majority it would need to be successful.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.