Secrecy News

Tracking “Unobligated” Military Construction Funds

A new congressional tally of military construction projects that have unobligated fund balances turned up hundreds of current projects fitting that description. See “FY2017-2019 Military Construction Projects/Programs with Unobligated Balances.”

Because the President declared a national emergency, some of the funds for those military construction activities could be repurposed in order to pay for barriers along the border with Mexico, pursuant to 10 USC 2808.

Declaring that a national emergency exists made it possible “to secure additional resources” to construct barriers along the border, the Trump White House said on February 15.

The White House said that up to $3.6 billion in unobligated Department of Defense military construction funds would now “be available to build the border wall.”

Funds are said to be “obligated” as the result of a purchase, contract or other government action that incurs a legal obligation to pay them. Until that happens, they are “unobligated” even though they have been appropriated for a specific purpose.

There is a considerable amount of military construction money that has not been obligated.

“According to DOD information, the department reported unobligated balances in the military construction and family housing accounts totaling $13.3 billion at the end of FY2018,” the Congressional Research Service noted recently.

Even though the money may be legally available, it is not “free.”

“All of this money has been assigned for other purposes, so it really then comes to what can — what are you going to trade off, because when you say tradeoff, it really is a tradeoff,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan on February 16.

The President’s declaration of national emergency faces a legislative challenge as well as pending litigation.