DENVER – Nearly six months after the Pentagon told lawmakers that several military construction projects at Colorado bases would be off-limits from President Trump’s emergency border declaration to divert money from the military construction budget, an $8 million project at Peterson Air Force Base is now at risk, according to Sen. Michael Bennet and a media report.
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved the diversion of $3.6 billion in military construction projects to pay for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that U.S. code allowed for the Pentagon to do so without congressional approval under national emergencies requiring the deployment of the armed forces. The law says such a declaration can be made if it “requires the use of the armed forces,” among other things.
In February, Denver7 obtained a list of more than $130 million in military construction projects in Colorado that were thought to be at risk the last time the administration made such an emergency declaration, including an $8 million Space Control Facility at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and projects at Buckley Air Force Base and Fort Carson.
But in March, the Pentagon told lawmakers that only projects awarded after Sept. 30, 2019 could be affected under that order.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., voted against overturning the president’s emergency declaration at the time and Trump later vetoed the measure. His spokesperson, Annalyse Keller, told Denver7 at the time that Gardner had received assurances from the Trump administration that no FY2019 money would be repurposed from Colorado’s military installations under the emergency declaration.
Since the Space Control Facility was originally budgeted in FY2018, it falls outside of what Keller and the Pentagon said at the time would be affected.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday, after reviewing a partial list of projects at risk under the new declaration, that “a space control facility at Peterson Air Force Base” was among them.
Bennet’s office was also told by the Air Force that the $8 million Space Control Facility at Peterson, which was originally budgeted for FY2018 but has been delayed for several years, was on the list of projects whose funding could be redirected, a spokesperson said.
“President Trump’s selfish decision to raid military construction funding is a new low in his ridiculous pursuit of a campaign promise,” Bennet said. “These projects, including the Space Control Facility at Peterson Air Force Base, were identified by the Department of Defense and the Trump Administration as critical to our military readiness. Taking money from operation priorities to pay for a wasteful and ineffective wall is grossly irresponsible and undermines our national security.”
According to the Air Force’s description of the Space Control Facility, it is to house 88 personnel from a Space Control Squadron that was yet to be created when the project submission was made in 2017.
This week, President Trump announced the launch of Space Command. Its initial temporary home will be at Peterson Air Force Base – something most of Colorado’s congressional delegation has pushed for over the years. Trump also said the U.S. Space Force would be established “soon.”
That same day, all of the delegation, as well as Gov. Jared Polis, sent a letter to the Space Command’s commander and the Air Force’s acting secretary asking the permanent Space Command to be housed in Colorado as well.
“Colorado provides the existing command structure, infrastructure, and communications platforms necessary to host additional national security space initiatives and ensure coordination of efforts,” the lawmakers wrote. “Additionally, our state ranks first in the nation in its concentration of aerospace jobs and has the nation’s largest aerospace economy on a per capita basis.”
A Peterson Air Force Base spokesperson on Wednesday referred questions about the funding to the Pentagon, which did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. The media line’s mailbox was full.
Gardner’s office sent a statement from Sen. Gardner on Thursday in which he blamed Democrats for the situation.
“It’s unfortunate Democrats can’t defend the border and defend the country at the same time. If they could, we would have a border that was secure and no need for other funding to secure the border," Gardner said. "Six months ago, they said there was no crisis at the border. Now they admit there is a crisis but won’t pay to help fix it. The bipartisan Senate-passed defense authorization bill funds defense and allows us to address the border crisis. I would hope that Democrats would agree to fund defense needs and address the crisis they now admit.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who represents the area that includes Peterson Air Force Base and who has been an ardent supporter of the Space Command and of President Trump's actions at the border, said in a statement to Denver7 Thursday that the diversion of the funds was "unfortunate" but something that was necessary to secure the border.
"I will continue working with my Democrat colleagues and with the Trump Administration to ensure the FY20 military construction projects are backfilled as quickly as possible," he said. "It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but the primary job of the commander-in-chief and purpose of our military is to guarantee our national sovereignty."
Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., said the diversion would not make the border more secure and put military readiness at risk.
“Right now, I’m at the U.S.- Mexico border hearing directly from our nation’s servicemembers and border patrol agents, and the number one need being expressed to me is more CBP personnel - not a wall,” Crow said in a statement. “While our troops are being used to backfill personnel shortages at the border, the administration now plans to cut billions in defense projects, further impacting our military’s readiness.”
Officials have said about half of the money would come from projects inside the United States.
The Associated Press reports that in addition to the $3.6 billion in military construction projects, other transferred funds would include $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund and $2.5 billion from anti-drug efforts.
Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser joined a lawsuit earlier this year, along with several other states, to fight the emergency declaration over what they say are the millions of dollars the state’s military installations stand to potentially lose, as the declaration would allow the administration to divert money away from a military construction budget previously appropriated by Congress.
This is a developing story and will be updated.