Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has directed that several military construction projects in the US that had been put on hold to divert money to President Donald Trump’s border wall be restarted, with funds for the wall instead being redirected from overseas building projects.
The projects that are losing funding were authorized in the most recent Congressional National Defense Authorization Act and include projects that are part of the European Deterrence Initiative, which is aimed at countering Russia, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN.
The move marks a significant increase in the Pentagon’s domestic spending in an election year. The change “could be innocent, or it could be political” a congressional aide told CNN.
Projects are being restarted in states represented by both Republicans and Democrats.
“I direct you to release funding associated with 22 currently deferred projects within the United States totaling $545.526 million,” Esper wrote in a memo dated Monday to the Pentagon’s top budget official.
“I also direct that $545.526 million from sources detailed in the attachment be used to ensure adequate funding remains available for the current section 2808 military construction effort,” Esper added, referring to the authority that allows the Pentagon to transfer military construction funds under the national emergency declaration Trump announced last year.
A project for an engineering center at the US Military Academy at West Point in New York and a Defense Department school in Kentucky are being restarted.
Other states impacted include Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, and North Carolina along with 13 others.
Some individual projects could be central to the political fight unfolding in key states this election year.
Esper’s directive restores funding to Fort Huachuca in Arizona which is an election battleground state. Republican Sen. Martha McSally had faced criticism from her likely Democratic challenger Mark Kelly after a project at the fort lost funding despite McSally initially claiming projects in the state would not be impacted.
The overseas military projects that will be delayed or canceled due to their funds being diverted to the wall include a detention legal office and communications center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and several projects that are meant to help counter Russia, including a logistics distribution center in Germany and a small craft berthing facility at a naval base in Rota, Spain.
Another project that will see its funding delayed or cut is an air traffic control terminal at the military’s Kwajalein Atoll missile defense testing facility in the Pacific and several projects in Jordan.
A Pentagon spokesman later confirmed the change and said that the overseas projects from which the money is being diverted “have not been cancelled” but delayed. The spokesman did not address why overseas projects were almost exclusively chosen or whether there were political considerations behind the decision to restore funding to certain domestic projects.
It is not clear whether the Department of Defense will be able to secure additional funding for the delayed projects from Congress to prevent them from being canceled.
Esper previously used the national emergency authority to transfer $3.6 billion in military construction funds to the border wall.
While Congress voted to overturn the national emergency declaration, it fell short of a veto proof majority.
The diverted military construction funds were intended to pay for up to 175 miles of border wall “in high priority locations” in the San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, El Paso, and Laredo Sectors which were identified US Border Patrol.
Some 11 miles of border barrier have been completed to date using the military construction money according to US Customs and Border Protection.
The Trump administration’s diverting of military funds to the border wall has been the subject of several legal challenges.
The Pentagon had also diverted some an additional $6.3 billion from various accounts to fund additional miles of border barrier.
Those moves have drawn opposition from Democrats and the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, who is not running for re-election.