The U.S. Department of Defense has not previously funded infrastructure projects outside of military bases, but a new federal program could help bankroll transportation enhancements, stormwater drainage, and utility infrastructure outside the boundaries of Joint Base San Antonio installations.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) sat down Monday with Juan Ayala, the City of San Antonio’s director of military and veteran affairs, to discuss defense funding that could come to San Antonio. 

President Donald Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending package in December, which included $50 million to provide local governments with grants for infrastructure projects in communities with military bases, Cuellar said. The Department of Defense (DOD) did not historically think of area outside of the military bases as its responsibility, he said. 

The $50 million is part of the new Defense Communities Infrastructure Program, which Cuellar said he spearheaded along with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose Washington district includes several military bases. This is the first time there has been federal defense investment at this level outside of military gates, Cuellar added.

The Department of Defense previously wanted to confine expenditures within military installations, Cuellar said, and considered projects outside those boundaries as the responsibility of the City of San Antonio and the state of Texas.

All communities with military bases can apply for the funding, so San Antonio is not guaranteed federal dollars, Cuellar said.

Cuellar also highlighted a new manufacturing program designed to bring workforce development and other federal assistance to military communities. He said he helped secure $25 million of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill for that purpose. Because it’s a new program, the DOD has not determined how to allocate the money yet, Cuellar said.

The appropriations bill also has more than $1.5 billion allocated toward DOD Impact Aid, which helps fund education for the children of military personnel whose school districts include property tax-exempt land, and $5.5 million dedicated to Navy ROTC Cybersecurity training. The language of the appropriations bill also directs DOD to focus on recruiting cybersecurity-focused college juniors and seniors so that they can complete security clearance prior to graduation and fill critical jobs sooner.

As the need for cybersecurity professionals grows, having younger people ready to take on these jobs are crucial, Ayala said.

“Every institution is vulnerable – our power grids, our utilities,” Ayala said. “Cyber is not only very important for the military, but the minute you plug something into the socket, you are vulnerable to cyber [attacks]. And so it’s very important for us to get [younger people] properly trained in the future, get them into the fight before it becomes a fight. I think this initiative and this funding is very important.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.