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Under Pentagon's rules, MacDill construction funds will be spared diversion to border wall

MacDill Air Force base will need a new office and administration center to accommodate the personnel that come with additional KC-135 Stratotanker refueling jets assigned to the base. [Times (2017)]
MacDill Air Force base will need a new office and administration center to accommodate the personnel that come with additional KC-135 Stratotanker refueling jets assigned to the base. [Times (2017)]
Published Mar. 22, 2019

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By HOWARD ALTMAN

Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — Florida's 20 military bases are all but absent from a list of construction projects that could be cut to pay for a border wall.

Monday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan submitted Congress a list of projects that could be sacrificed to make up a funding gap in President Donald Trump's plan to construct a barrier along portions of the southern border with Mexico.

The list included every unfunded military construction project around the world, including two at MacDill Air Force Base, but only those with a projected award date after Oct. 1, 2019, would be subject to the cuts, according to a memo from the Pentagon. The MacDill projects, worth a combined $11.2 million, had projected award dates before the Pentagon's cutoff.

MacDill would get $8.1 million for a new center to provide offices, administration and ancillary space for Operations Group and Maintenance Group personnel working with additional aerial refueling tankers assigned to the base. MacDill's fleet of 16 KC-135s will grow to 24, plus $3.1 million for KC-135 flight simulators.

Without the new building, the personnel "will be forced to operate in substandard and space deficient facilities that are already at capacity to meet mission requirements," said Air Force Capt. Samantha Morrison, a spokeswoman for the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base host unit.

That new center has an award date of September 2019 and the simulators, July 2019.

The Pentagon memo also says that across the military, no housing, barracks, or dormitory projects are affected by cuts for the wall.

More than $830 million in Florida military construction projects are included on the Pentagon's list of unfunded projects, but the only one that could be cut to fund the wall is a $17 million fire/crash rescue station at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Panhandle. The project has a July 2020 award date, after the Pentagon's cutoff.

The Pentagon has yet to make a final decision on which projects might be cut for the wall.

No cuts or delays would be needed if the next federal budget is adopted on time, the Pentagon said — a goal that has eluded Congress year after year.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the Tampa Democrat, doesn't buy that assessment, saying the list of projects is too long to take care of in a single year.

"I strongly disagree that such projects could be funded in fiscal 2020," Castor said.

Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border on Feb. 15 and announced he would divert funding from other government operations to build a wall.

Trump has originally sought $5.7 billion for enhanced border barriers and is seeking $3.6 billion from military construction funds to help pay for it.

The declaration of a national emergency is facing a legal challenge and Trump said Friday he expects to win at the Supreme Court.

To pay for the barriers he seeks, Trump would also use $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund and up to $2.5 billion from Department of Defense counter-drug activities.

Those two sources would be used before military construction funds are diverted, the White House has said.

Contact Howard Altman at (813) 225-3112 or haltman@tampabay.com. Follow @haltman.