Air Force's Rome Lab security fence could be scrapped for Trump border wall
By MARK WEINER | Syracuse Media Group, N.Y. | Published: February 23, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — President Donald Trump may sacrifice a security fence for the Air Force in Upstate New York to build the wall he wants on the U.S.-Mexico border.
A $14.2 million anti-terrorism perimeter security project at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome is on a list of $3.6 billion in military construction projects that Trump says he will consider diverting to fund the border barrier, congressional records show.
The Air Force had pushed for a year or more for money to build the fence and to beef up security at Rome Lab, one of the nation's premier research sites for the gathering and processing of military cyber intelligence.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and former Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, secured funding for the upgrades in negotiations last year, allowing the project to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Under the "national emergency" declaration Trump issued Feb. 15, he would divert up to $6.7 billion from other federal programs to help finance the border barrier after Congress refused to fully fund the president's request.
The White House said it wants to tap into $3.6 billion from unspent military construction money, $2.5 billion from Defense Department anti-drug initiatives and $600 million from a federal asset forfeiture fund.
White House and federal officials have not identified which specific projects would be affected by diverting the funds.
A list from the House Appropriations Committee, showing military construction projects with unspent money, includes the $14.2 million for Rome Lab.
An Air Force spokesman confirmed Friday that none of the money has been spent on the project, which is still in its conceptual design phase. A request for proposals for a design/build contract is due to be issued this summer.
The Air Force said it has not been notified or approached about redirecting the military construction funds for Rome Lab.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, whose 22nd Congressional District includes Rome Lab, said he believes it would pose a bigger threat to national security to divert money from the lab to the border wall.
Brindisi, D-Utica, said he toured Rome Lab this month and saw why it's necessary to upgrade protection for the military installation and its 1,200 employees.
"Rome Lab is in serious need of security upgrades to its facilities," Brindisi said in an interview. "They're doing cutting edge research on cybersecurity and coming up with all sorts of information to protect our warfighters right now. It's information I'm sure that our adversaries would like to receive."
The planned upgrades in security include a fence around the perimeter of Rome Lab, new lighting, video surveillance, card-controlled personnel entry access gates, and a new entry point to diminish threats from vehicle-born bombs or improvised explosive devices.
"I believe taking money for this project threatens our safety and security," Brindisi said. "The Rome Lab funding should be in a lock box. I will do whatever I can to ensure that funding is protected."
Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he'll also fight to protect the Rome Lab funding.
"Defense spending is for national defense, not phony national emergencies," Schumer said, adding that it's "irresponsible and counterproductive to cannibalize funding meant to maintain military readiness."
Brindisi is among a minority of Democrats who support Trump's call for beefing up physical barriers on the southern border. But he wants security experts – not the president – to decide what's necessary to build.
The Democratic-controlled House plans to begin consideration Tuesday on a resolution backed by Brindisi to revoke Trump's national emergency declaration.
Supporters of the resolution say the president overstepped his authority with the emergency declaration, and view Trump's effort as a move to circumvent the authority of Congress to control the federal purse.
If the resolution passes the Republican-held Senate, Trump would likely issue his first veto as president. Both the House and Senate would need a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.
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