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Pentagon will pull money from ballistic missile and surveillance plane programs to fund border wall

Concertina wire tops the border wall in San Luis, Calif., on May 6, 2019. (Ash Ponders for The Washington Post)

The Pentagon will shift $1.5 billion for President Trump’s border wall from programs that include a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile system and a plane that provides surveillance and communications to fighter jets while airborne, according to a Defense Department document obtained by The Washington Post.

The document includes more details about the administration’s plan, disclosed Friday, to build about 80 additional miles of border wall using Defense Department money. The document echoes acting defense secretary Patrick M. Shanahan in saying that there will be no negative effect on military readiness, though administration officials have previously acknowledged that reprogrammed money also could be put toward other unfunded military projects.

“The Department carefully selected sources for the reprogramming that are excess or early to need and will not adversely affect military preparedness,” the document said.

This photo shows why a border wall won’t stop the immigration surge

The reprogramming has angered Democratic lawmakers, who say it amounts to the administration sidestepping congressional authority to pay for a Trump campaign promise. The Pentagon has justified the reprogramming for the border wall by shifting the funding to a Defense Department counterdrug effort.

“We look forward to hearing your views on how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the Department,” several Democratic senators, including Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), wrote in a letter to the Pentagon on Friday.

Defense Department officials have not provided a breakdown of how much money will come from each program.

“The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements,” the Pentagon said in a statement Friday, without elaborating.

The $1.5 billion in reprogramming comes on top of about $1 billion in Army personnel money that the Pentagon said in March it would set aside for the border wall and $3.6 billion in military construction projects that the Defense Department intends to delay to build other sections of the wall.

The document detailing where the $1.5 billion originates does not state how much money will come from each program but identifies them in greater deal than previously disclosed.

The ballistic missile program is the Minuteman III, which the Air Force says requires updates to its aging ground infrastructure. A plan to upgrade its control center is “slightly delayed,” so the Pentagon is shifting some money set aside for it for the wall, the document said.

The Pentagon also intends to reprogram some money for the wall from its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) program, the document said. AWACS planes fly with a large antenna array on the outside of the fuselage, transmitting messages to strike aircraft.

The AWACS program is “slightly delayed,” allowing the Pentagon to put the money elsewhere, the document said. It does not describe what the delay is, but the Air Force decided late last year to terminate a $76 million AWACS contract with Boeing after learning of delays in hardware and software development, Bloomberg News reported.

The Defense Department also will reprogram money originally designated for a “space test experiment” involving the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the document said, without elaborating.

“We expect this type of thing to happen due to the innovative nature of DARPA’s work,” the document said.

The Pentagon also will pull money from two “Overseas Contingency Operations” funds, money that goes to fund war efforts. That money is split between a fund that supports coalition forces and another that assists the Afghan military, which the United States has been bolstering for years in its 17-year war.

Other money will come from the Pentagon’s new Blended Retirement System, which debuted in January 2018 and has proven not to be as popular as defense officials expected, and from savings the Defense Department negotiated on air-launch cruise and Hellfire missiles, the document said.

On Friday, the Associated Press published estimates for some of the accounts from which the Pentagon is pulling money, citing two anonymous defense officials. The largest segment, $604 million, will come from money funding Afghan and coalition forces, the AP reported.

An additional $251 million will come from an ongoing project to destroy chemical munitions, the AP reported. The Pentagon document obtained by The Post said that is possible because “funds previously added to the program to prevent delays are no longer needed.”

The AP reported that $344 million will be pulled from Air Force programs, without specifying the ones involved. The reprogrammed money from the retirement system will amount to $224 million, the report said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the Minuteman III missile system.