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Defense Department awards first contracts for Trump's border wall construction

Members of the U.S. military install concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, on Nov. 16, 2018. (Photo: Eric Gay/AP)

The Department of Defense awarded its first contracts to two companies Tuesday for construction of a barrier along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a notice posted on the DOD’s website.

The Galveston, Texas-based company SLSCO was awarded a $789 million contract for “border replacement wall construction” in Santa Teresa, N.M., while Barnard Construction Co., a firm based in Bozeman, Mont., received a contract worth $187 million for “pedestrian wall replacement” in Yuma, Ariz., the DOD’s website stated.

Nearly two months after President Trump declared a national emergency to secure funding for the construction of his border wall, the contracts represent the first issued by the Department of Defense.

A letter received by Congress from the DOD dated March 27 stated that “to date, no DoD funds have been obligated on contracts or task orders for the purpose of constructing a border wall.”

This piece of information was among several details included in a letter that Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, received Tuesday from Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary for homeland defense and global security at the Department of Defense.

The letter, a copy of which was provided to Yahoo News, includes responses to questions that Brown and a handful of other House Democrats sent in February to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, including information about the department’s strategy and justification for deploying active-duty troops to the southwest border.

While Tuesday’s letter confirms that the DOD has already spent close to $300 million in its support of U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations since last year, and expects to spend an estimated $350 million over the next several months at least, the DOD’s answers revealed that little action had been taken on the construction of a border wall.

“At this time,” Rapuano wrote on behalf of Shanahan, “the Acting Secretary is still considering whether and how to use the authority provided by Section 2808 of title 10, U.S. Code.” That specific section of the National Emergencies Act authorizes the military to undertake certain construction projects that are deemed “necessary to support such use of the armed forces” in the event of a presidential declaration of a national emergency.

President Trump tours the border wall in Calexico, Calif., on April 5. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

In December, ahead of a standoff with congressional Democrats over funding construction of the border wall that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Trump vowed in a tweet that “the United States Military will build the Wall!”

In a statement to Yahoo News, Brown blasted the president over his plan to circumvent Congress and use the U.S. military as “political props” on the southern border.

“It’s been 370 days since the President first deployed the National Guard to the border, 162 days since his pre-election deployment of active duty servicemembers to the border, and 53 days since he declared his national emergency,” Brown said in his statement. “In all of that time, the President has made things worse – our immigration system remains broken, the military remains on the border with no mission or measure of success, and President Trump keeps on pivoting to any shiny, cruel, and perverse policy for the southwest border he can come up with. Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to foot the bill for these transparently political stunts, our military readiness continues to degrade, and the President continues to use servicemembers and migrants as political props to further his right-wing agenda.”

Among other noteworthy insights from the letter Brown and his colleagues received Tuesday was the open-ended response to a question about the military’s long-term strategy for its mission at the southern border and, specifically, what conditions on the ground must be met to merit withdrawal from the border.

“When DHS no longer requires DoD assistance to secure the southern border,” Rapuano replied.

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