April 08, 2019

Ahead of Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, Warren, Reed, & Colleagues Question Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan on Top Marine's Warning of "Unacceptable Risk" to Marine Corps Combat Readiness and Solvency

Troop Deployment to Southern Border Listed as a Key Problem; General's Warning Contradicts DOD Assurances that Border Deployment Would Not Affect Readiness

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and four other members of the Armed Services Committee, today sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to seek clarification about statements made by Department of Defense (DOD) officials about the deployment of military personnel to the southwest border and assurances that this deployment would not negatively affect military readiness. The senators' letter follows warnings by Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller about the "unacceptable risk" posed by the deployment and several other factors affecting the Corps, and comes a day before General Neller's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Joining Senators Warren and Reed in sending the letter are Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In October 2018, President Trump announced the deployment of active duty military personnel to the southwest border in response to what he called an "invasion" of several thousand Central American migrants fleeing violence and instability in their home countries. This deployment, which was extended by Acting Secretary Shanahan in January 2019 for an additional nine months, is estimated to cost at least half a billion dollars and involves the deployment of approximately 4,000 active-duty personnel and approximately 2,000 National Guardsmen to the southern border.

In their letter to Acting Secretary Shanahan, the senators cited a memo written last month by General Neller in which he warned that "unplanned/unbudgeted Southwest Border Operations," "border security funding transfers," and seven other problems or directives affecting the Corps are "imposing unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

The senators expressed concern with General Neller's warnings, which were inconsistent with assurances made only days earlier by DOD officials about the border deployment's impact on readiness. In earlier letters to Sen. Warren, DOD officials indicated that they could "proactively ...manage any impacts on readiness," and that there would be "minimal disruption in readiness and other DOD missions" as a result of the border deployment.

"We are extraordinarily distressed by the concerns raised by General Neller," the senators wrote. "We are particularly concerned about the cost and impact of the Southwest Border Operations and the border security funding transfers, given that they have not been authorized by Congress and because of previous assurances we have received that these factors would not impact readiness."

The senators requested that Acting Secretary Shanahan provide a staff-level briefing on the matter within seven days and asked that he provide a written explanation of how he will address the concerns raised by General Neller no later than April 22, 2019.

"These discrepancies require an explanation, and to the extent the southern border deployment is causing readiness concerns, they must be addressed immediately," the senators continued.

In November 2018, Senator Warren, who serves on the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Chairwoman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, and former Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), sent a bicameral letter to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis requesting information about President Trump's decision to deploy more than 5,000 active duty military personnel to the southwest border. Sen. Warren and Rep. Speier sent a follow-up letter asking for additional information from Acting Secretary Shanahan on January 29, 2019. The Pentagon's responses to their letters can be viewed here and here.