Hawaii Projects Could be Defunded to Pay for Border Wall

Mar 13, 2019

USS Buffalo in Dry Dock 2 at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. A upgrade to the dry dock facility for submarine maintenance at Pearl Harbor is one of the projects potentially at risk.
Credit U.S. Navy photo by Marshall Fukuki

More than $300 million in funding for military construction projects in Hawaii could potentially be diverted to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. After declaring a national emergency, President Trump directed the Defense Department to identify projects from which funds could be repurposed.

The president moved to declare a national emergency when he was unable to secure funding for a border wall through the normal congressional budgeting process. A standoff over that issue in December led to a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government, the longest in U.S. history.

The Hawaii Air National Guard was set to get a new facility to support its next generation F-22 fighter aircraft. Funding for that project is now at risk.
Credit U.S. Air Force

Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, the President of the United States can assume broad emergency powers for the duration of the national emergency. One of those powers is the ability to redirect funds already appropriated for military construction.

In practice, this has never been attempted according to Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project

“The President usually can’t move funds from where Congress has allocated them. If he wants to change it, he has to go to Congress and ask them. There is not a lot of precedent for this. It’s actually somewhat uncharted territory.”

Koshgarian says that it is not clear whether or not using an emergency declaration to move around funds is legal.

Hawaii Congressman Ed Case (D, HI-01) calls the national emergency an “end run around the Congressional appropriations process.” He told HPR that he does not believe there is a true emergency on the southern border.

“Certainly, there is nothing here that cannot be, and should not be, dealt with in the normal policy process” Case told HPR.

According to Congressman Case, one of the reasons military construction projects in Hawaii are so expensive is that many of the buildings are from the World War Two era and require extensive upgrades. Pictured is one of the historic "quads" at Schofield Barracks.
Credit U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii

The Trump Administration has told members of Congress that it will request new funding for any construction projects that are defunded to pay for a wall. For Case, that is a clear violation of the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution.

The Defense Department has stated that it will not defund family housing or any projects for which a contract has already been signed. That leaves five projects in Hawaii are potentially at risk. Those include $105 million command and control facility at Fort Shafter, $45 million for a new submarine repair dry dock at Pearl Harbor, and a $78 million water transmission line for Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam.

Elected officials in Honolulu and Washington D.C. have decried the move as pointlessly jeopardizing national security.  In a press conference on Tuesday, Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz delivered a strong rebuke of the Defense Department’s handling of the process, saying the DoD was risking its reputation as non-partisan.

Funding for an anti-corrosion hangar for aircraft at Kaneohe's Marine Corps Base Hawaii is also on the chopping block.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate will vote on a resolution that would reverse the national emergency declaration. A similar resolution was already passed by the House. President Trump has said he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

16 states, including Hawaii, have signed on to a lawsuit challenging the President’s declaration. The ultimate fate of the declaration will likely be settled in court, establishing a precedent for future presidents.