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Records show state employees knew Nebraska wouldn't be reimbursed for border deployment

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Documents obtained by The World-Herald show the mission is estimated to cost Nebraska more than $334,000.

When Nebraska sent state troopers to the Texas-Mexico border last summer, spokespeople said the state may be reimbursed for the cost.

But behind the scenes, there was an understanding among state employees that Nebraska would pay for the deployment, according to emails and text messages obtained by the Omaha World-Herald.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was one of multiple Republican governors who responded to a call for help at the border from Texas and Arizona via the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, commonly referred to as EMAC, a mutual aid agreement among states.

Ricketts said at the time that the state was “happy to step up” and that the federal government had fallen short in its response at the border.

The World-Herald reported in July that Nebraska had agreed not to seek reimbursement from Texas for costs, most recently estimated at $500,000.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who also sent troopers to the border, said Iowa would foot its bill after agreements were made public. In South Dakota, the Washington Post reported, Gov. Kristi Noem deployed National Guard troops using a private donation from Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation.

But in Nebraska, officials continued to say reimbursement was on the table.

The World-Herald has since reviewed dozens of pages of emails and text messages, obtained under the state’s public-records law, between state officials and employees in the days leading up to the original deployment and the deployment’s extension.

Some show that employees understood, even before the deployment was announced, that the state would not be reimbursed.

(A spokesman for Ricketts did not entirely rule out reimbursement last week but said it was “unlikely.”)

The records shed light on details of the initial deployment — including spending more than $20,000 for new uniforms — and its extension over the summer.

On June 15, Ricketts’ office received a letter from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey requesting that states send “all available law enforcement resources to the border in defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The same day, Bryan Tuma, who at the time led the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, received a message with a subject line indicating that it contained details of the EMAC request from Arizona and Texas. (The State Patrol, which released the documents, redacted the entire body of the email as “tactical and strategic information.”)

Tuma forwarded the message to Col. John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, who forwarded it to Patrol Capt. Jason Scott, who would ultimately lead the deployment.

Sometime before June 17, a person (whose name was redacted) sent a message to Capt. Kevin Ryan of the patrol’s Administrative Services Division:

“Texas/Arizona put out a nationwide EMAC requesting 500 troopers. Pete’s office directed us to put a proposal together to send 25. I’ll be on the phone all day with Carol and (redacted) putting it together. We won’t be reimbursed for this one.”

On June 17, a controller in the patrol’s accounting division sought clarification on the timing of the deployment and added: “Also, Russ mentioned that we might not get reimbursed,” in an apparent reference to Maj. Russell Lewis of the Administrative Services Division.

“Is that the case? Who are we going to be able to submit this like every other EMAC through NEMA for reimbursement?”

In response, the person (whose name was redacted) said they were on the road and requested that she call.

One email did suggest that reimbursement for some of the costs was rumored to be possible. In a message to Bolduc on June 17, Tuma said the state sent an offer to Texas that morning, asked whether there was authorization to proceed, and added:

“Also hearing the Texas Legislature may authorize funds for covering the cost of incidentals, such as lodging, meals, travel,” he wrote. “Cannot confirm for sure.”

Bolduc forwarded the message to Scott and said “FYI. I informed Mr. Tuma that we are a green light from the Governor.”

Ricketts has since echoed the notion of Texas providing reimbursement in a special session, but the Texas Governor’s Office told the World-Herald that there are no plans for a special session.

Even if that rumored reimbursement occurred, documents show that Nebraska’s estimated travel costs and commodities had been expected to make up 30% of an initial $334,012 estimate. Personnel costs, which wouldn’t have been reimbursed under that proposal, accounted for 70% of estimated costs.

Estimated costs of Nebraska troopers to Texas border

Asked for more details about Tuma’s knowledge of potential reimbursement, a spokesperson for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said they didn’t have answers and Tuma has since retired. The World-Herald could not reach Tuma for comment.

By June 18, deployment details were coming together.

Someone sent a message to Ryan saying “Jay Scott” had stopped at a uniform shop and decided that the uniforms the person had picked out wouldn’t work.

“I guess it wasn’t going to be durable enough,” the person wrote. “Was thinking they were going for 16 days and not 16 weeks,” adding a laughing emoji and “Whatever.”

An invoice from an Omaha uniform store, dated June 23, shows that the State Patrol was billed for $22,203 worth of uniform pieces such as tactical boots, T-shirts, polos, hats, and pants. Shipping accounted for $1,177 of that cost.

State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said the new, light-green uniforms were issued to minimize the possibility of heat-related health problems — the traditional uniforms are dark-blue, he said, and training uniforms are black. Troopers can now use the new ones as training uniforms, Thomas said.

A final roster of people headed to Texas was shared June 18, along with dates for the deployment: June 27 to July 10.

A request from the Texas Department of Public Safety says that Texas and Arizona asked states to “absorb the associated costs with this mission in support of the entire country” and “provide services at no charge to Texas.”

An agreement signed by Maj. Gen. Daryl L. Bohac, the adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard, on June 18, said “NEBRASKA WILL NOT SEEK COST REIMBURSEMENT FROM THE STATE OF TEXAS — COST ESTIMATES ARE ONLY INCLUDED FOR FUTURE AUDITING PURPOSES.”

Ricketts’ office announced the deployment June 19.

A spokesperson for the governor that day did not address questions about who would pay for it. A few days later, Thomas wrote in an email that funding hadn’t been finalized as critics called for more transparency.

Thomas said the agency had been reimbursed for previous responses requested through the same partnership, such as during pipeline protests in North Dakota.

Ricketts defends decision to send troopers to Texas

Thomas gave a similar answer July 9, when Ricketts announced that “15 Nebraska State Patrol troopers would continue their voluntary deployment to Texas for an additional 14 days.”

That characterization of the extension also gave an impression that differed from conversations behind the scenes, which referred to a second wave of troopers.

The patrol originally said that the extended deployment comprised 15 troopers and that the remainder would return to Nebraska; but eight remained from the original group, and the state sent seven new troopers.

In total, Thomas clarified recently, 32 troopers participated in the deployment.

That second wave, an email shows, included a “SWAT roster.” Thomas said SWAT team members were included in both waves and mostly assisted U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

“Much of that work was done on foot where vehicles were unable to travel,” he wrote.

Records also show that deployed troopers received “shift differential pay,” which Thomas said is an extra 85 cents per hour and is usually given to troopers who begin their shifts after 3 p.m.

That would amount to roughly $10 extra per day for each trooper.

“All deployed troopers at the rank of sergeant or trooper received shift differential pay as part of this mission,” Thomas wrote in an email. “That decision was made to satisfy questions raised by the state troopers’ union regarding detached duty pay.”

When the World-Herald reported on Nebraska’s agreement not to seek reimbursement, Ricketts’ office and the State Patrol said that a funding source hadn’t been finalized and that the “language in the agreement was included to expedite the deployment.”

Nebraska agreed to cover costs for sending troopers in Texas

“Texans tasked the Legislature with delivering on key priorities for the state in this most recent special session, including property tax relief, redistricting and the nearly $16 billion American Rescue Plan Act funding, and we went above and beyond to deliver on these priorities as well as solve other critical issues for Texas. Because of the Texas House and Senate’s efforts to get these priorities across the finish line, there is no need for another special session at this time,” a spokeswoman for the Texas governor said.

She did not address whether Abbott planned to otherwise propose or encourage the Legislature to reimburse other states.

When the World-Herald emailed that statement to then-Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage, along with quotes from internal messages that show an understanding that Nebraska would not be reimbursed, Gage said in an email: “Reimbursement is unlikely at this point, but we continue to push Texas for it.”

The State Patrol hasn’t calculated the total amount spent on the Texas deployment, according to Thomas, because costs “have been absorbed by the NSP budget.”

The $500,000 cost estimate provided at a news conference in July is still the best estimate, he said.

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