Pentagon offered to pay Guard’s Capitol costs

National Guard members in the rotunda on Capitol Hill a week after a pro-Trump insurrectionist mob breached the security of the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS

WASHINGTON — As lawmakers loudly sparred in recent weeks about how to reimburse the National Guard half a billion dollars for protecting the Capitol this year, the Pentagon quietly offered to simply foot the bill by deferring “non-urgent” facilities repairs by a few months, CQ Roll Call has learned.

The Defense Department’s seemingly simple solution has barely been mentioned in the current debate. Some lawmakers do not want the military to have to foot the National Guard’s bill by redirecting money in its budgets, even if the Pentagon has suggested it can do so without adverse effect.

In a June 11 reprogramming request that has not been previously reported, the Defense Department said it could cover $521 million in Army National Guard and Air National Guard costs by merely putting off until later this year certain “lower-priority” and “non-urgent” repair projects in Army, Navy and Air Force facilities.

Debate over how to compensate the Guard for its unprecedented Capitol deployments has bedeviled Congress and triggered partisan spats — chiefly about what else besides new Guard money to put in a supplemental spending bill, not whether the Guard needs the additional half a billion dollars.

Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last month that if the Guard is not reimbursed “in a timely manner,” then it would have “a very significant impact on National Guard readiness.” Lawmakers in both parties have echoed that plea in making the case for new appropriations.

At least three bills are pending, including one totaling $3.7 billion, that would fund the Guard and the Capitol Police and in some cases pay for other programs unrelated to security on the Hill. A fourth bill would appropriate just the $521 million.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a retired Army National Guard colonel who serves on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, noted the reprogramming request during a July 13 markup of the $705.9 billion Defense spending bill. Womack urged his colleagues to reject it and to provide new funds instead.

“That’s the epitome of robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Womack said of reprogramming the money.

Womack and Ken Calvert, R-Calif., on Friday filed a measure that would appropriate $521 million in new funds to repay the Guard. Unlike most of the other pending proposals in Congress, their bill would not add any other funding lines.

Reprogramming the funds would not be easy or free, Alexia Sikora, a spokeswoman for Womack, said in an email on Friday.

Doing so, she said, “takes modernization dollars out of nuclear submarine refit facilities, barracks upgrade projects, investments in cyber training centers and cadet barracks at the U.S. Military Academy. These are projects identified as needed projects by the services and the Appropriations Committee has agreed on the necessity to fund them. Taking money away because Congress has no appetite to do its job is unacceptable.”

In addition to the Womack-Calvert bill, the House in May passed a $1.9 billion supplemental spending measure that includes money for the Capitol Police, $521 million for the Guard plus $200 million to create a “quick reaction force” for Capitol protection under the command of the D.C. National Guard.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., has offered a $3.7 billion measure that would include funding for a number of goals beyond Capitol security and the National Guard, including paying certain federal pandemic-related expenses and covering costs to relocate Afghan refugees who helped America’s war effort but who may be in danger after the departure of U.S. troops.

Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the Senate panel’s top Republican, has offered a $633 million bill that is focused on Capitol security and the Guard.

Leahy and Shelby’s committee received the Pentagon reprogramming request to cover the National Guard’s costs internally, but neither mentioned it in the statements announcing their proposals to provide new emergency funds.

The June 11 reprogramming request would cover costs incurred in “response to the events on January 6, 2021, and subsequent heightened security requirements, around the United States Capitol Complex.” The request would cover the $521 million in Guard costs by deferring only until the first quarter of fiscal 2022, not eliminating, about $174 million in facilities upkeep funds from each of the three services’ so-called operations and maintenance accounts.

To be sure, the $521 million in deferred repair work would still need to be funded in the fiscal 2022 budget.

Under the proposal, the Army would delay “lower priority renovation and upgrade projects, demolition activities, and design efforts for future projects that can be deferred to FY 2022.”

The Navy would defer “non-urgent” repairs at various medical facilities, McDonough Hall at the United States Naval Academy, pavement projects at King’s Bay Trident Refit Facility, Building 431 at Naval Base Kitsap, unaccompanied housing at Naval Air Station Oceana and a waterfront facility at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The Air Force, for its part, would put off until fiscal 2022 “non-urgent minor construction tasking orders (160 projects across 60 installations),” the document stated.

Before the Pentagon can move any of the funds in any part of a reprogramming request like the one signed on June 11, both Armed Services committees and the two Defense Appropriations panels must sign off.

It is not yet clear how many, if any, of the four panels have acted on the request.

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