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GAO says Biden's freezing of border wall funds not illegal

A section of the border fence in Naco, Ariz., is being replaced with modern barriers on February 14, 2019. On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office said President Joe Biden didn't break the law when he froze funding for building the southern border wall. File Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI
A section of the border fence in Naco, Ariz., is being replaced with modern barriers on February 14, 2019. On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office said President Joe Biden didn't break the law when he froze funding for building the southern border wall. File Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

June 15 (UPI) -- The Biden administration's decision to halt funding for border wall construction didn't break budgetary law, the Government Accountability Office said Tuesday.

The watchdog's legal opinion said the freezing of funds is a "programmatic delay" and doesn't violated the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.

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Critics said the freezing of funds broke the law that requires the administration to spend the money that Congress appropriates for particular projects. But the GAO said the executive branch has the discretion to pause the funding for things such as environmental reviews and consultations with stakeholders.

"Delays in the obligation and expenditure of funds in these circumstances are programmatic delays, not impoundments," said Shirley Jones, the managing associate general counsel for appropriations law in the GAO.

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The agency said the pause in funding thus can't be compared to former President Donald Trump's freezing of military assistance to Ukraine in 2019.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she was disappointed in the GAO's decision, which she said will worsen "the ongoing crisis" at the border.

"GAO's decision today makes clear that there are two sets of rules when it comes to executing funds appropriated by Congress: one for Democrat administrations and one for Republican administrations," she said.

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"While disappointing, GAO's decision does not change two critical facts: (1) there is a crisis on the southern border and it is getting worse; and (2) Congress -- on a bipartisan basis -- appropriated funding to build a wall, which the U.S. Border Patrol has long said is needed to help stop illegal immigration."

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day of office to terminate the national emergency declaration that was used to help pay for the construction of the border wall. Last week, the Defense Department redirected $2.2 billion in military funds that had been diverted to boost spending for the construction.

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