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Blunt says he hopes Trump won't tap NGA construction for border wall

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency land

The 97 acres north of downtown St. Louis where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's $1.7 billion western headquarters will be built as seen on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. This view looks southeast toward downtown.  St. Louis Avenue can be seen to the left and Parnell Street and Jefferson Avenue can be seen running to the right. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

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WASHINGTON • Sen. Roy Blunt said Thursday it is possible the White House could delay for six months funding of the ongoing construction of a new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency western headquarters in north St. Louis, but says he hopes that won’t happen because of its importance to national security.

And a public affairs officer for the NGA’s national headquarters, Nancy Rapavi, said that “NGA has not received notification of any delay to the Next NGA West project.”

The response from Blunt, R-Mo., followed a question the senator got at an appearance in O’Fallon, Mo., about a list of all military construction projects in the country circulated by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.

In opposing Trump’s move to shift that money, part of the president’s national emergency declaration last week, Democrats claim some are at risk because Trump wants to divert money from military construction to the Mexico border wall.

Two projects on that list are the $1.7 billion NGA headquarters and separate funding for a new hospital at Fort Leonard Wood. Roughly $300 million for the NGA is in this year’s military construction budget.

This spring, the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the construction, plans to pick a general contractor from three finalists. Construction could start by late 2019, with the facility’s completion anticipated in 2024 or 2025.

Blunt, who has raised concerns about continuing the NGA funding stream with American intelligence officials, expressed hope that the NGA “would not be somewhere the president would want to look” for funding for the wall.

He said it was “clearly understood by the intel (intelligence) and defense community that it is an essential part of our future security.”

Blunt serves on both the Senate Appropriations and Intelligence committees.

“I would hope that would not be the case and then if it was the case, are we talking about only delaying the money that is being appropriated from March until the end of September?” he said. “Or are we talking about having to start (the appropriations) all over again?

“I think what they (Democrats) are talking about on all of these military construction projects like that one, or the hospital at Fort Leonard Wood, would be a delay from this fiscal year, to Oct. 1,” he said, referring to the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year.

Blunt added that “in both cases it may take that long to bid the project and have people ready to start future work, anyhow. But these are both critically important, particularly NGA — both to what is going to happen in north St. Louis and what is going to happen in the actual security of the country. It is a top security priority. I hope there won’t be any interruption at all moving forward with that. “

Blunt had previously raised the prospect of whether legal fights over the border wall funding could delay other spending decisions. Sixteen states have filed a lawsuit to stop Trump’s national emergency declaration.

A White House official who asked to not be identified told the Post-Dispatch last week that “the White House is working closely with (the Department of Defense) to identify funding within these programs, but there is no list of planned (military construction) projects that might be affected at this time.

“Criteria will focus on lower priority, unawarded projects — we’re committed to not harming lethality or readiness,” the official said. The NGA makeover in St. Louis has long been sold as vital to U.S. counter-intelligence.

Nothing has changed on that statement, that official said Thursday.

The White House has prioritized military construction projects after Treasury and counterdrug programs as sources of funding for the wall.

Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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