ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT (REUTERS) - Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday (Feb 16) that he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval.
A US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Mr Shanahan was likely to approve the US$3.6 billion (S$4.9 billion) being redirected from the military construction budget.
By declaring a national emergency, Mr Trump can use certain Department of Defence funding to build the wall.
According to the law, the Defence Secretary has to decide whether the wall is militarily necessary before money from the military construction budget can be used.
"We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates," Mr Shanahan told reporters travelling back with him from his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.
"Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,"Mr Shanahan said.
He added that military planners had done the initial analysis and he would start reviewing it on Sunday.
Officials have said that the administration had found nearly US$7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including about US$3.6 billion from the military construction budget and US$2.5 billion from a Defence Department drug interdiction fund.
The US defence official said Mr Shanahan would meet with the service secretaries in the coming days to pick which specific projects the money should come from.
Mr Shanahan said that planners had identified the different sources of money that could be used, but he had not decided specifically what projects it would impact and ultimately it was his decision.
"I am not required to do anything," he said.
Mr Shanahan said he did not expect to take money away from projects such as military housing.
Poor standards of military housing were highlighted by recent Reuters reporting, which described rampant mould and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers.
"Military housing, what's been interesting - I've received a number of letters, I've had lots of feedback, do not jeopardise projects that are underway," Mr Shanahan said. "As we step our way through the process we'll use good judgement."
The Republican president's move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Mr Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration.
Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners.
"We are following the law, using the rules and we're not bending the rules," Mr Shanahan said.