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On-The-Record Discussion on Drug-Trafficking

Feb. 14, 2020
Robert G. Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities

STAFF: All right, guys, we'll get started here in just a moment. With you today we've got DASD Bob Salesses. He’s here to talk about border construction, in particular an announcement that will happen later today. He'll be with us for about -- about 20, 25 minutes. The discussion here is on the record. However, any information you get from this discussion is embargoed until 4 o'clock. 

His focus will be on decision-making process to this point and steps going forward. And what I'd like to kind of try and keep it to is a question and a follow-up to each of you all, just to make sure we hit everybody before we run out of time. 

And with that, we'll go ahead and get started. 


STAFF: Just got an opening statement, and then we'll go...


STAFF: ... to take questions.

MR. SALESSES: So, really, it's just an update. I want to provide you an update, I think it'd be helpful. 

So the secretary of defense has made a decision today to support the DHS request for assistance that the department received on January 15th of this year. 

DoD received a request from the Department of Homeland Security, requesting DoD assistance in blocking drug-smuggling corridors on federally controlled land along the southwest border of the United States. 

The DHS request specifically identified the need for fences, roads and lighting. The DHS request includes border barrier projects in all four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. 

DHS' request identifies six of the nine CBP sectors -- as you're familiar with the sectors across the southwest border -- and the request further identifies -- the DHS request -- a request for 271 miles at a cost of $5.5 billion. That was DHS' request.  
The request also identified areas along the southwest border that are adjacent to some of the most densely populated urban areas of the Mexico-U.S. border. The request also includes and identifies remote locations where the terrain offers drug cartels tactical advantage in their efforts to smuggle drugs. 

The Office of National Drug Control Policy, ONDCP, had identified each of the projects in the DHS request as a high-intensity drug trafficking area. What that means specifically is a significant center of illegal drug importation, that the drug-related activities in that area, significantly harmful to the area. And that there needs to be an increased allocation of federal resources. 

All of these areas along the Mexican-U.S. border are home to some of the strongest and most violent drug cartels in the world. The improved ability to impede and deny illicit activity within these border barrier area projects will help to deter and prevent illegal cross-border activity and stem the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States. It also creates a much safer operational environment for law enforcement. 

Under Section 284, Title 10, the authority that we used, the secretary of defense may support, for counter-drug activities of other federal departments and agencies. 

One of the specifically authorized activities is the construction of roads, fences and installation of lighting to block drug-smuggling corridors across the international border and boundaries of the United States. 

So DoD conducted a deliberate process to assess whether and how DoD could support the DHS request. The process involved the secretary asking the secretary of the Army and the U.S. Corps of Engineers -- Army Corps of Engineers -- to assess the feasibility of supporting construction of border barrier that DHS had requested. 

The secretary also -- secretary of defense -- also asked the comptroller to identify potential funding sources and to provide funding recommendations in coordination with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The secretary asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his military advice to assess whether using the funds identified by the comptroller and the associated transfer authority would affect the military preparedness of the United States. This is the same process that we used last year. 

So, based on the recommendations of the secretary of the Army, the comptroller and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary has decided to construct 177 miles of 30-foot bollard-style fencing-slash-barrier in six of the CBP sectors: San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso and Del Rio. 

The funding, the secretary has authorized the use of up to approximately $3.8 billion to support the DHS request. The transfer of funds is based on what the law allows and the items to be funded are a higher priority than the items from which the funds were transferred. 

The transfer of the funds will not adversely affect the military preparedness of the United States. The comptroller identified funding sources that are excess and early to the current programmatic needs. The Corps of Engineers, under the direction of the secretary of the Army is ready to contract and construct the border barrier. All 177 miles of border barrier are on federally controlled land. 

The projects should be completed in the next 12 to 24 months. The border barrier construction support that DoD will provide to DHS this year will allow DHS to fulfill the president's border security policy promise. 

Aside from the Corps of Engineers oversight, we do not foresee that DoD will be asked to support DHS border barrier construction next year. Additionally, as you're aware, we continue to provide military support to DHS and CBP. We currently have a little over 5,000 military people deployed along the southwest border. 

So, with that, I'll be glad to answer any questions. 

STAFF: Sylvie, we'll start with you, we'll work around the table. And then on to you all.

Q: OK. The budget was published this week, and we were told there was no money for the wall in the budget. So how come, now, you have to find money for the wall in the budget? 

MR. SALESSES: Right. So this is money that is being transferred from other parts of the budget into our counter-drug authority to allow us to build the border barrier. 

Q: From where?

Q: Yeah. 

Q: From where? 

MR. SALESSES: I don't have the sources of where the money's coming from. That should be published later today. 

STAFF: Yeah, yeah. We're anticipating those numbers to be published to the comptroller's website later today, public-facing website, later today. 

Q: But aren't there rules on what monies can be transferred? 

MR. SALESSES: In regards to?

Q: Like, you can't just pull -- obviously, there's an obligated thing, but you can't just pull funds from...

MR. SALESSES: The Department has the authority to -- to reprogram funding within its budget. There's a general transfer authority of up to $4 billion and there's a special transfer authority up to $2 billion. So what's ... 

Q: Regardless of the program.


MR. SALESSES: It has to be a higher priority and the Secretary has determined this was a higher priority.

Q: So -- so maybe just -- can clarify this a little bit. Are these counter-drug monies coming out of a counter-drug ... 


Q: They're not. So this is -- is this military construction again?

MR. SALESSES: No, it's -- it's -- 2808 is a different -- a completely different MILCON funding, it's not associated with this. This would be O&M funding, Operations & Maintenance funding, which incorporates many, many different kinds of programs and capabilities across the services, defense agencies.

Q: OK and you -- you said that you don't see a request coming -- another request coming this year. So it -- is that -- that is what you said, correct?

MR. SALESSES: What -- what -- what I -- I think -- let me just be clear, what I said, aside from the ... 

Q: Next year?

MR. SALESSES: Right, we do not foresee next year.

Q: A next -- so the next fiscal year, is that right?

MR. SALESSES: Correct.

Q: Do you see another request coming this year and do you see any need to pull more funding from, say, MILCON and other ... 

MR. SALESSES: I'm -- I'm not aware of us doing that at this point but that's always a possibility.

Q: Because you're not meeting what they asked for clearly, so do you expect that they'll come back with ... 

MR. SALESSES: Meeting?

Q: The requests of the DHS.

MR. SALESSES: No, we -- we have a request for 284, what we're talking about now. Keep in mind last year, we did two things. We transferred $2.5 billion ... 

Q: Right.

MR. SALESSES: ... and built -- under construction now is 129 miles. That's under the 284 authority.

Q: Right.

MR. SALESSES: Also last year, we used 2808, which is a different authority that the Department has, and we used MILCON money. So what I'm talking about today is the decision on the DHS request that the Department received back in January. That's been analyzed and the decision has been made that that request was 271 miles ... 

Q: Right.

MR. SALESSES: ... $5.5 billion and what the Department has determined and the Secretary has determined is that we will build 177 miles.

Q: Right, that was my question. This did not meet the request -- the totality of their request ... 

MR. SALESSES: Correct.

Q: ... so do you anticipate ... 

MR. SALESSES: No, so the reason that -- part of that is -- is -- is because of where some of this is to be built, the additional miles, the terrain, other factors, the ability to execute the construction within the time frame that the funding's allocated would not be met this year.

STAFF: Tara?

Q: Besides the Goldwater Range, can you give us examples of other federally controlled land where these fences will be built?

MR. SALESSES: Sure. So -- so it's all federally controlled land. I can give you other -- I mean, the other locations -- again, I -- I think the sectors I can give you, the specific locations. I mean, you know, we have a map that has all of the locations down to the actual, you know, specific degrees of where they are but I can give you the -- not -- not that level of detail right now but I can, again, give you the sectors.

Q: Well the sectors -- I mean, we know those but, like, can you give us any example? Like, in the San Diego area where -- what federally controlled land there is ... 

MR. SALESSES: So that is all in the DHS request. It's adjacent to some of the other ongoing projects in that area but I -- specifically next to which town and those kinds of things, I -- we have that detail, I don't have that with me.

STAFF: I -- I can take that and I can give you -- I can get you that.

Q: And then just separately, you know, last year, when the reprogramming battle was going on, there are a number of projects such as schools and -- that saw their funding being shifted. Could you give us an update on the status of that and those projects, are they going to -- are they going to now go forward? Will certain bases get their schools, firehouses, et cetera?

MR. SALESSES: And -- and again, that's all associated with the 2808 funding that was used last year, the MILCON funding, and I -- and I don't have an update for you on -- on the progress of where -- some of those projects, as you know, were deferred and your question is "are they coming back online?" I don't have an answer for you right now.

STAFF: Moshe?

Q: At this point, do you have any idea of projected personnel that will be involved or is there -- are -- can we get a breakdown of ... 

MR. SALESSES: Sure, so this is being executed under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they will contract for all of the construction. There are no military personnel involved in the actual construction. The supervision, the implementation, the oversight of the contracting is all done by the Corps of Engineers and they have sections within the Corps of Engineers that do that. 

But we can get you the numbers of both, that the Corps of Engineers would be using to oversee contracting like this and the actual execution and construction, but it's not a military mission to construct.

Q: That was actually my question, too, like is there any mechanism that might be employed later that would take out active duty military who assist, to supplement or anything like that?

MR. SALESSES: Not that I can foresee. It -- it will all be done through commercial sources.

STAFF: Paul?

Q: So are you aware of the plans that we reported on to take out the $7.2 billion, including in addition to this money, from (inaudible) 2808 and 2293, this civil authority? Are you in discussions about that at the moment?

MR. SALESSES: There's always ongoing discussions at the Department but no decisions have been made on 2293 or 2808.

Q: But are you aware of the plans to try to take some of the $7.2 billion this year ... 

MR. SALESSES: I am aware of ongoing discussions but no decisions have been made.

Q: OK. And then our understanding on the MILCON projects that were defunded is that none of those have been -- have received funding, even though the Department said last year that they would be deferred and -- and -- and backfilled by Congress.


Q: Is that accurate, that -- that all of those still remain unfunded?

MR. SALESSES: I -- you know, I'll -- I'll have to check on that. Again, you -- you know, this is a -- we got a new MILCON budget this year. Whether there's the opportunity to move some of that money around, I'm sure that others will be looking at that but I'm not aware of where we are in that process.

Q: OK. And then I just -- lastly, I wanted to ask, so we -- you -- you guys are committing to giving us where the money that is being announced today is coming from?

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, that's going to be public knowledge this afternoon.

Q: OK and you do not know that at this point?

MR. SALESSES: I do not know that.

Q: OK.

MR. SALESSES: I do not.

STAFF: Lara?

Q: Just a clarifying question. The money that you're using in -- in 284, it's being reprogrammed from 2020 money, right, not 2021?

MR. SALESSES: Correct.

Q: OK.

MR. SALESSES: Correct. That is correct.

Q: So it's -- it's not along with this budget request? This is money that's been appropriated for F.Y. '20, separate from the budget ... 

MR. SALESSES: It is the appropriations that we have now for Fiscal Year '20, yes.

Q: OK.

MR. SALESSES: Absolutely.

Q: OK.

STAFF: Luis?

Q: I like that we're going around like this because your eyes followed right next to me. Last year, you -- you -- you got this huge request from DHS. Did you anticipate that they were going to come at you again with more for this -- this year? Because it seems like that was the -- initially -- like they had planned all along that that was going to be an initial request and there was going to be a follow on request this year.

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, my -- my knowledge is in January, when we received the request and -- and some discussion just shortly before that, but not before any of that.

Q: And what about the other 100 miles -- the other 90 or something, whatever the amount is, it's 177 and 271 was the request.


Q: What's the difference, who's going to make that up?

MR. SALESSES: I'm not sure that that will be made up and I -- clearly the Defense Department will not be constructing that. That may be something that DHS does in the future.

STAFF: Jeff?

Q: Thank you. 


Q: After this, is it possible you could commit to us, to giving us an answer to my colleague's question about whether the military construction projects that were defunded to pay for the border wall, whether they have been fully funded in the '21 budget. That's all...


Q: ... the ones that were defunded, whether they have been fully funded yet. 

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, I'll have to look into that. I don't have an answer for you right now. 

Q: Thank you. That's my only question.

MR. SALESSES: Yeah, yeah.

STAFF: Caitlin?

Q: So, Caitlin Kenney with Stars and Stripes. The 284, how much is currently in it and how much are you putting into it with this request?

MR. SALESSES: So there is money appropriated into the 284 counter-drug account every year, there's an appropriation. I'm going to say approximately -- and say approximately again and approximately again, it's roughly about $600 to $800 million. 

But that funding is used, as you're familiar, with a lot of the counter-drug activities that the combatant commands, the state National Guard programs, all of that funding's associated with those kinds of activities in support of the counter-drug program. 

Currently, none of that money is being used to support the construction. Fiscal Year '20, we're not using any of that funding for the construction of the border barrier. 

Q: So you're saying that's safe, but then you're going to move money into that fund to then use it for the border wall? 

MR. SALESSES: That -- we're not using any of the money in the counter-drug program...

Q: OK, so you're going to add more money to the...

MR. SALESSES: We are -- we are moving money into the counter-drug program to support our ability to build the border barrier. 

Q: Right, so then you're moving the $3.8 billion into that account, aren't you getting very, very close to your cap of reprogramming for...


MR. SALESSES: Well, again, the cap is -- is $4 billion for GTA and $2 billion for special transfer authority, so that's $6 billion.


Q: So doesn't that mean the department won't be able to reprogram, basically, be able to reprogram for ...


MR. SALESSES: No, we still have other -- you know, a pretty sizable amount of reprogramming authority. 

Q: Isn't it just $200 million, or...

MR. SALESSES: No, no, billions we're talking. So it's $6 billion is the total...

Q: Right. 

MR. SALESSES: And this is $3.8. 

Q: OK, so it's not the $4 -- what is the difference between the $4 and the $2, (inaudible)...

MR. SALESSES: The different -- they're just different transfer authorities. And I -- we can get you that budget...

STAFF: Yeah – we can touch on that. 


Q: And why invest -- do you get to dictate (inaudible)...


Q: Do you get to -- does this happen -- or the MILCON last year, but for -- for the appropriation this year, like, do you anticipate that you are going to need billions of dollars to potentially help with DHS requests? Like, why is this now, having move it around instead of just requesting it?

MR. SALESSES: So we're talking about Fiscal Year '20 appropriations...

Q: Right, right. 

MR. SALESSES: ... and my understanding is, last year, DHS -- for '20, the year in execution that we're in, they asked for $5 billion in their budget. The defense Department asked for $3.6 billion to backfill the MILCON, an additional $3.6 for border barrier. 

Q: So you asked for backfill money, but you didn't ask for Congress to appropriate money because this would highlight the potential, DHS would be sending more requests. Is that correct?

MR. SALESSES: Again, we didn't know about the request until, you know, the beginning of January. 

Q: No, but -- but there's been, like, a series of requests. 

MR. SALESSES: Sure. But there's two requests. I mean, not to confuse things because it's easy to confuse all of this. When DHS requested, it's under the 284 authority. They don't request under 2808. 2808 is the military construction authority and the determination last year was that construction was necessary to support the use of the armed forces. 

That is a DoD decision, to begin that construction, which is different than a request in this case from 284 with -- so right now, we're talking about the 284 authority that the Defense Department has. 

Q: I'll -- I'll (continue ?). 

STAFF: Yeah, thank you. Meghann?

Q: Meghan, Military Times. So you've mentioned that you don't believe that you're going to get another request like this, last year. What is that based on? Is it that they're going to run out of space and the wall will be fully built, or is it they can't build any more on -- where -- on the border? Why do you -- why do you believe that this will be, essentially, the DoD's role in this will be done this year? 

MR. SALESSES: So there's -- the Department of Homeland Security has the border security infrastructure plan. And that plan highlighted over a 10-year period, 722 miles to be built at approximately $18 billion. Based on where we are in this process, the ability to speed that up and deliver on the border barrier construction has obviously increased significantly. 

So I don't have anything specific, but it's clear that we're meeting the requirements that have been identified by the president to accelerate and build the border barrier as quickly and as effectively as we can. 

Q: Hi, Jacqueline Feldscher with Politico. I'm wondering if you have delivered this plan to Congress yet, and what sort of reaction you've heard from lawmakers. 

MR. SALESSES: So Congress has been notified this morning, and it continues. Discussions with a number of folks on the Hill today. I know that there's been a number of phone calls to all the senior leadership, and everyone is aware that this is happening. 

Q: But you've not faced any -- there was obviously a lot of blowback on the Hill when you did this last year, with the military construction money. Have you gotten any sort of pushback?

MR. SALESSES: Me personally? No...

Q: Well...

MR. SALESSES: I did last year. Obviously, there was great concern from many different folks. But, again, this is a priority. I mean, I don't know how many of you have actually been down to the southwest border, had the opportunity to see the southwest border in all the different locations, and see the challenges. There are significant challenges, national security challenges on the -- on the southwest border of the United States, significant national challenges. 

If you look at the request -- and you'll have the opportunity at some point to see the request from DHS -- and the outlay of the counter-drug activity, the transnational criminal organizations, we have significant challenges on the border of the United States, on the southwest. 

And so the ability to do something about that effectively will make a huge different on the security of this nation. 

Q: Can I just ask a follow-up for clarification on Meghann’s question?


Q: So does that mean that the -- the 72 miles over the 10-year period, will that be met this year?

MR. SALESSES: Seven hundred...

Q: Or, sorry, 722 miles. Will that -- is the reason that...

MR. SALESSES: Again...

Q: ... expect another request is because that will be met (inaudible)?


MR. SALESSES: If you think about long-term, 10 years, 722 miles, divided by 10, that's, you know, basically 70-plus miles a year, right? 

Q: Right. 

MR. SALESSES: That's not a very fast and effective way to deal with the challenges we have on the border...

Q: Right. 

MR. SALESSES: ... so the decision has been to move as quickly as we can and as effectively as we can, in constructing border barrier on the southwest border. And so this will -- will obviously meet a lot of those goals that were set.

Q: Another follow-up...


Q: ... how many forces are now still assigned to the border? And what are they doing at this point, if there's going to be contractors filling in all those roles? 

MR. SALESSES: No, so we want to separate those two things, right? So contractors -- when you say contractors, we're talking about constructing the border barrier. Our military that are deployed on the border right now, it's about 5,000 military folks and it's a mix of National Guard and active component forces.

And those 5,000 military members are spread across all four states and all nine sectors and what they're doing is detection and monitoring capability. So we have helicopters flying in support of the Border Patrol. As you know, the border is 1,964 -- 2,000 miles long and the Border Patrol has to patrol that whole border area and in order to do that, they need a lot of -- a lot of assistance in surveillance and detection capability. So we have helicopters doing that.

We also have military members in what they call MSC, which is a Mobile Surveillance Camera system, which is a system that's on the back of a truck that allows you to surveil the border. We have military members doing that.

We have military members helping with operational support, monitoring these cameras, also doing logistics support and those kinds of things. That's what the military is doing. They're not doing border barrier construction.

Q: Can we just clarify your answer to Paul and Meghann's question? You said you map out this 10 year plan ... 

MR. SALESSES: No, this is DHS's ... 

Q: Right but you -- you -- you describe their -- their 10 year plan and this effort to accelerate it but when Paul asked about this -- this reported $7 billion that members of Congress are expected to -- come out this year, you said there are ongoing -- there's been on -- there are ongoing discussions about this.

MR. SALESSES: There are.

Q: So do you expect that will trigger another request from them this year?


Q: Yes.

MR. SALESSES: No, I do not. 

Q: So -- but there's ongoing discussions then about -- I don't understand, then. So how do you -- so the -- that doesn't ... 

Q: ... authorities don't require a request from DHS?

MR. SALESSES: That's right.

Q: Right.

MR. SALESSES: That's correct. That's -- that's -- that's exactly why.

Q: So in other words, DHS won't have to request it but DOD can, just upon its own then, decide to spend some of it -- some money to fill those requests this year?

MR. SALESSES: The Department of Defense, under its 2808 authority, has the ability to build border barrier if it's necessary to support the use of the Armed Forces along the southwest border.

Q: But what about 2293?

MR. SALESSES: 2293 is a Civil Works authority and all -- all of that -- I'm not -- I'm not aware of any use of 2993.

Q: No -- no discussions on that?



Q: ... 2808 that DOD decides internally that it could shift towards border construction this year, separate from this request?

MR. SALESSES: That -- that -- that is a possibility but there's no decisions on that.

Q: Right, but that -- I'm -- and to say that there's no technical request from DHS, the information comes from DHS, the ongoing discussions are with DHS about where their needs are, it's just no official request from them, but, you know, honesty, this does come from DHS because they're telling DOD where their needs are. Is that not correct?

MR. SALESSES: Absolutely -- so absolutely and -- and we don't want to confuse things here. It's DHS's mission along the southwest border. The President has directed the Defense Department and the Secretary of Defense to support DHS, so there's always ongoing discussions about what potentially the Defense Department could do in support of DHS.

And again, whether that's the military deployments, additional border barrier, whether that's under 284 authority or 2808, those discussions have -- are ongoing all the time.

Q: So it is possible or likely that the 2808 money will be used this year again?

MR. SALESSES: Again ... 

Q: No decisions have been made but those are -- you said discussions are ongoing.

MR. SALESSES: We're always -- we're always discussing and working with DHS. I meet with DHS, I have DHS employees in my office, I have a Border Patrol agent in my office who are constantly in dialogue and discussion about planning and thinking about how we can better secure the border collectively.

STAFF: Guys, that's all the time we've got.

Q: All right, thank you.

STAFF: I want to thank you for coming out and just remind you again we're on -- we're on embargo up until 4:00 today on this information.

Q: How far in advance of the embargo will we get the stuff on where the money is coming from? 

Q: Yeah, we need -- yeah, when is it coming?

STAFF: I know that -- I know that the Comptroller is committed to getting that up today. I -- I don't have a -- a set time on what time they're going to do it. It takes time between the time they give them the information and the time it makes it online.

But the intent is -- the intent is to have it today.


Q: ... yeah, or even just a ... 

Q: A print out.

Q: ... a print out or a -- or a -- some sort of PDF of it or something.

STAFF: Yeah, if -- if I get a link, I'll share it -- I'll share it with the resident media list. If I get it -- you know, if I get a -- a PDF, same difference, same thing, I'll get it to you guys.

Q: OK.


MR. SALESSES: Really appreciate it, thanks for your time.