When it comes to Guantánamo, Trump is truly the builder in chief
The Trump administration has more than $200 million in new construction teed up for Guantánamo this year and next, combining new funding in the $1.3 trillion spending bill and existing projects.
The biggest ticket item for the U.S. Navy base in Cuba in the so-called Omnibus Spending law is $115 million for a new 848-troop barracks across the street from the McDonald’s and commissary to consolidate enlisted prison staff under one roof.
A dive into the documents that underpin the spending bill that President Donald Trump signed Friday, March 23 — declaring “Nobody read it. It’s only hours old. Some people don’t even know what’s in it” — indicates Congress did not fund a new $69 million prison for the 15 high-value detainees at Guantánamo, called Camp 7. It does however devote $66 million to a 150-prisoner jail, with campus, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state for troops and airmen accused of crimes.
It also serves as a study in contrasts of the costs of doing business at the remote base behind a minefield in southeast Cuba, where both labor and supplies must arrive by barge and airlift to undertake new construction.
To put the cost of the new barracks in perspective, the Omnibus Spending Law this year is also funding dormitory-style housing for 216 sailors at a Navy training site in Pensacola for $18 million, or $83,000 per bed, compared to Guantánamo’s cost of $135,613 for comparable housing.
The new barracks had been championed by Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, during his years as a Marine general at U.S. Southern Command and rejected by President Barack Obama, who wanted the prison complex closed.
The U.S. military has already spent $9 million on design and other preparation on the barracks for enlisted soldiers on the staff of the 41-captive prison — about half of the current strength of 1,700 troops and civilians — so the sum included in the measure is for construction of the dormitory-style building itself. A contractor has yet to be signed.
With all labor and materials flown in, the project is an expensive one and, by latest estimates, would start with a contract awarded in April 2019 with an anticipated 900-day construction period meaning the soonest it would be done is in September 2021.
Separately, the Pentagon has three other major building projects approved or underway in 2018:
▪ It has notified Congress that it found $14 million to expand the Top Secret trailer park portion of the war court complex at Camp Justice — called the Expeditionary Legal Complex — and accommodate more prefabricated office space and secure work stations.