WASHINGTON • US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has agreed to free up US$3.6 billion (S$5 billion) from the Pentagon budget for President Donald Trump's border wall by effectively defunding 127 military construction projects using emergency authorities.
Mr Esper determined that the use of the military building funds was necessary to support American forces deployed to the southern border with Mexico under the national emergency that Mr Trump declared in mid-February.
The formal determination allows Mr Trump, under an obscure statute in the federal code overseeing the military, to tap the funds appropriated for other purposes without approval from Congress.
The Pentagon declined to release the list of 127 military construction projects that would be affected by the decision.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said the list would be made available later this week, after the Defence Department finishes notifying lawmakers with affected projects in their districts and foreign embassies with affected projects in their countries.
During a briefing on Tuesday, top Pentagon officials said the US$3.6 billion will fund 280km of new or reconstructed barriers along the US' border with Mexico and help reduce the need for American troops on the border.
Among the projects that the money will fund is a new barrier along the military's Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range in Arizona, which abuts the border with Mexico, officials said.
The Pentagon will obtain the US$3.6 billion by taking money away from 127 military construction projects that Congress had already funded in recent years.
About half of the money will come from projects within the United States and its territories; the other half will come from construction projects the US military was planning to carry out in foreign countries.
The Pentagon said the projects were not being cancelled and would not be delayed so long as Congress agreed to "backfill" the funds and once again appropriate money for the projects.
Democrats have baulked at the suggestion, noting that they have already funded the projects in question. They say the action flies in the face of Congress' constitutionally mandated power of the purse.
There are about 3,000 active-duty troops and 2,000 national guardsmen serving on the US border.
Mr Trump deployed them to free up the resources of US Customs and Border Protection, which has been coping with large numbers of arrivals of primarily Central American migrant families.