BOSTON (CBS) – Remember the migrant march through Mexico to the US border?
It was topic number one for President Trump during the final weeks of the midterm election campaign, climaxing with a White House order of troops to the border just days before the vote.
“You look at what’s marching up, that’s an invasion!” said Mr. Trump at one pre-election rally.
Pentagon officials initially rejected a White House request for troops to provide law enforcement at the border, an assignment beyond their legal authority. When the mission was changed to providing logistical support for border control authorities, they okayed it.
But that still leaves open a multi-million-dollar question – was this deployment wise, or a big waste of taxpayer money?
More than 5,000 troops have come to the border, and the president says their ranks may swell to 15,000 by the time the Central American migrants fleeing crime, abuse and poverty reach them.
Meanwhile, the debate rages on – is all this an election-year political stunt aimed at scaring voters?
Defense secretary James Mattis says no: “we don’t do stunts in this department.” Others have their doubts.
But one thing is beyond debate – this controversial deployment is costing the taxpayers millions.
The independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates up to $143 a day per troop to sustain the operation. Military aircraft could potentially cost an extra $136,000 per day. The Pentagon hasn’t issued an official price tag yet, but informed cost estimates of a full deployment run as high as $220 million.
There’s no question the Border Patrol has its hands full with the nearly 2,000 people a day they claim are showing up at the border. But with the military barred by law from any direct involvement in detaining migrants, critics like Army General (Ret.) Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are flatly calling this a “wasteful deployment.”
Democrats in Congress are demanding a detailed cost-accounting from the Pentagon.
But with the bulk of the migrants expected to reach the border in a matter of weeks, we’ll soon see if this deployment was warranted, or just politically-motivated waste.
If you see government spending that seems wasteful, don’t get mad, get busy and let me know about it via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out on Twitter, @kelleratlarge.
We’ll look into it for a possible future “What a Waste” story.