Upcoming defense budget request being eyed for border wall funding

January 31, 2019

By Tony Bertuca

The Pentagon is in discussions with the White House Office of Management and Budget on whether the upcoming defense budget will request money for a southern border wall in fiscal year 2020 and information is beginning to leak to Washington think tankers and other insiders.

A government official with knowledge of the matter who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive federal budget matters confirmed to Inside Defense that Pentagon officials are in talks with OMB about possibly using the national defense budget, known as the 050 function, to fund border security activities at the Department of Homeland Security, including a border wall.

Traditionally, DOD's base budget and Overseas Contingency Operations fund accounts for most of the total defense budget, while the rest is spent at the Energy Department on nuclear weapons activities. Multiple sources say DOD expects the administration to request $750 billion in total defense spending.

But Mark Cancian, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said today he understands the Trump administration is considering using $5 billion or $10 billion in 050 defense money for DHS.

Cancian, who spoke today at CSIS, said it was possible DOD could use the money as a "gimmick" to "backfill" military construction spending should President Trump declare a national emergency and use the money to build the wall without congressional approval.

Cancian said OMB could signal a "one-time bump up," but noted that Democratic lawmakers would likely never approve it.

"I find it hard to believe it could get through the Congress," he said.

Todd Harrison, another CSIS analyst, said the "backfill" option would mean the money was not really being used for new defense spending, but as a "gimmick" to pay for projects canceled or deferred by the emergency use of MILCON for the wall.

"If part of the $750 [billion] is actually to be for the border wall or backfill for border wall funding then the bottom line is that is not money going to defense," he said.

The Pentagon directed questions to OMB, which did not respond. The Pentagon was planning to release its budget request Feb. 4, but it has been delayed by a historic government shutdown. Sources say the budget could be released the final week of February or the first week of March.

Republican and Democratic appropriators are meeting this week to avoid another government shutdown when a stopgap spending measure expires Feb. 15.

Meanwhile, Trump has said he will declare a national emergency to build the wall if Congress does not provide at least $5.7 billion in funding for it in FY-19.