Gregory Bull / AP

Biden Administration Cancels Border Contracts, Returns Funds to Pentagon

The administration is also looking to repair damage in border communities. 

The Biden administration announced on Friday it’s canceling border wall contracts from the Trump administration, returning previously diverted funds and repairing damage to border communities. 

President Biden issued a proclamation on January 20 to pause construction on former President Trump’s signature U.S.-Mexico border wall, to the extent legally allowed, and direct the Defense and Homeland Security secretaries, in consultation with the Treasury secretary, attorney general and Office of Management and Budget director and any other appropriate agency officials to create a “plan for redirecting funding and repurposing contracts.” Biden said the plan should be formulated “within 60 days from the date of this proclamation,” which was March 21, a deadline they missed

“Consistent with the president’s proclamation, the Department of Defense is proceeding with canceling all border barrier construction projects paid for with funds originally intended for other military missions and functions such as schools for military children, overseas military construction projects in partner nations, and the National Guard and Reserve equipment account,” said Jamal Brown, deputy Pentagon spokesman in a statement.“DoD has begun taking all necessary actions to cancel border barrier projects and to coordinate with interagency partners.”

Additionally, “unobligated military construction funds that had been diverted from military construction projects will be used for previously deferred military construction projects, allowing some of these critical efforts to move forward as soon as possible,” said the Defense Department. “The department is reviewing the deferred project list to determine funding prioritization” and is working with its interagency partners on steps needed at construction sites that are being impacted by the cancellations. 

The Trump administration diverted more than $17 billion to help build the wall, according to ABC News. 

Additionally, DHS outlined how it will protect communities in the areas near the border wall from the previous administration's construction. This includes repairing the Rio Grande Valley’s flood barrier system and remediating the “dangerous” soil erosion in San Diego. The department said explicitly for both initiatives, “this work will not involve expanding the border barrier.” 

DHS will also finalize a plan soon with more measures to address damage in border communities.

In March, 40 Republican senators asked the Government Accountability Office to determine if Biden’s pausing construction on the wall and freezing funds violated the Impoundment Control Act, which prevents the executive branch from withholding funds for policy reasons and outlines a process for seeking to delay funds appropriated by Congress. The Republicans said they believe the Biden administration violated this law.

A GAO spokesperson previously told Government Executive the watchdog accepted the request. 

On Thursday, Edda Emmanuelli Perez, GAO deputy general counsel, said before the House Budget Committee that the watchdog has a “decision pending” and they asked OMB and DHS for “factual and legal views” on it, which they expect “mid-to late next week.” She noted that GAO began looking at this issue right after Biden’s announcement in January and then accepted the request from the lawmakers. 

There was some immediate backlash to announcements.

“Having a secure, defined border is important to our national security [and] public health efforts,” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted. “This is an ill-advised decision at best.” 

This comes as the Biden administration is working to manage, house and process the vast influx of migrants coming to the border amid the pandemic. 

President Biden told NBC News in an interview that aired on Friday that his administration inherited “one god-awful mess at the border,” which was due to “the failure to have a real transition — cooperation from the last administration, like every other administration has done.”

Chad Wolf and Jon Feere, acting DHS secretary and a top Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, both under Trump, contested these claims on Twitter.