DHS, Pentagon Battle Over National Guard at the Border

By Matthew Harwood

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security are fighting over who will pay for National Guardsmen ordered to help protect the southwest border from Mexican drug violence, reports The Houston Chronicle and the Associated Press.

Word of the Obama administration's plan to deploy guardsmen to the border came to light at the end of June.

According to the article, the Pentagon and DHS drew up a $225 million plan to deploy 1,500 guardsmen to the southwest border to ease the strain on border patrol agents. But deciding who will pay for the deployment has lead to interdepartmental wrangling.

The Pentagon expects to be reimbursed for any costs it incurs carrying out that deployment, since the National Guard is a component of the U.S. Army. However, DHS is reluctant to bear the costs of the program because of the large disparity between the two departments' budgets. DHS expects $44 billion in fiscal year 2010 compared to the Pentagon's $636 billion.

The Pentagon, as the Chronicle and AP note, has other concerns about using guardsmen at the U.S.-Mexican border.

Defense leaders have been insistent that the U.S. avoid any appearance of militarizing the border, and they are opposed to using the soldiers at border entry points to openly inspect vehicles.

Defense officials have been uneasy about the Guard plan from the onset, insisting that the effort be temporary and not tied to any existing program that could end up being extended or made permanent. Adding to those concerns is the fact that while the program would be federally funded, the Guard members would be under the control of the border states' governors.

At the same time, Pentagon officials have grumbled that the latest demands come as the U.S. is still fighting two wars, including an escalation of fighting in Afghanistan, and the Guard units are still needed to take on some of the battlefield duties.

According to an early draft of the plan, the Pentagon sees the National Guard deployment as a short-term solution to allow Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a member agency of DHS, time to grow its ranks to fulfill its mission on the southwest border. To ease matters, a new plan has been drafted that absolves guardsmen of any vehicle inspection duties. A resolution on the plan, however, is still weeks away according to an anonymous official interviewed for the article.

Obama's order to ship guardsmen to the border stems from requests from Texas and Arizona, who wanted the federal government to mobilize troops so the states wouldn't have to pay for them. States argue border security is a federal responsibility.

According to the Chronicle and the AP, Texas Governor Rick Perry is getting antsy awaiting the arrival of guardsmen for border security. Perry originally requested a 1,000 guardsmen for border security help in February.

♦ Photo of National Guardsmen watching U.S. border from Arizona in 2006 by jim.greenhill/Flickr


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