Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that nothing on the Air Force’s military construction list is unnecessary.
That’s an important statement given that President Donald Trump wants to redirect $3.6 billion in Defense Department construction funds in the current year’s budget to his administration’s plans to improve security at the U.S.-Mexico border, plans that include his controversial wall.
Alaska’s members of Congress, and certainly others in the state, are no doubt concerned that the president will take money that is necessary to continue preparations for the arrival of two squadrons of F-35 fighter aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base. The first of those aircraft are scheduled to arrive early next year.
Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young expressed their concern in a Feb. 26 letter to President Trump that argued the importance of Alaska to the nation’s defenses and noting the impending arrival of the F-35s.
“Should you elect to pursue a reallocation of military construction funds in order to meet national objectives under the Feb. 15 proclamation, we seek your commitment that funds appropriated for urgently needed national security projects in the state of Alaska will be protected from diversion given the logistical challenges they face from limited construction seasons,” the letter reads.
The point about Alaska’s short construction season might seem minor to those unfamiliar with Alaska, but it is a potent argument. A late start on a project in Alaska, especially in the Interior, as the letter notes, can force a project to be carried over to the next year’s construction season, as the Sullivan-Young letter points out.
Sen. Sullivan and Rep. Young politely suggest in their letter that Alaska’s short construction season might not be “appropriately considered in the military construction decision-making process” by the administration.
It’s likely that the administration has received many letters from members of Congress concerned that funds for coveted military construction projects are at risk of being diverted to border security measures. Congress has shown a consistent propensity, after all, for wanting to keep military installations open when the military and Defense Department leaders want to close them to become more efficient.
The situation now is the reverse to some extent, however. There’s a risk of taking away items that the military wants to keep, not forcing the military to keep items it doesn’t want.
Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, of Hawaii, asked a crisp question to that point during Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on military construction. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a member of the subcommittee and was present at the hearing.
“Is there anything on your list that you think you don’t need?” Sen. Schatz asked.
The answer from Secretary Wilson?
President Trump and his people will need to have solid justification for any redirecting of military construction funds authorized by Congress in the current budget, assuming, of course, that his authority to actually move the money under the National Emergencies Act survives a court challenge.
Failing a clear justification, however, pro-military members of Congress such as Sen. Sullivan and Rep. Young, who co-wrote the letter to the president, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski would have little choice but to strongly oppose the president’s redirection of military construction funds, regardless from which state those funds would be taken.