Complications of the Border Wall Project Increasingly Apparent
As the deadline for initial concept papers for Trump’s wall approaches (Wednesday, March 29, 4 pm without specifying the time zone), we are finally starting to read about some of the problems that will be encountered if an actual contractor tries to build an actual wall.
The Washington Post today listed three obstacles to the wall project: money, geography, and legal challenges. You can read the full story by Alicia Caldwell here.
To those of us familiar with federal contracting procedures and federally-funded construction projects, the Post story just scratches the surface of the barriers facing this pipe-dream.
Money. As Caldwell points out, Trump promised that Mexico will pay for the wall. We all know that was a five-Pinocchio lie. Let’s assume that Trump himself is not going to pay for it (he doesn’t even pay the carpet companies who outfit his hotels!) In order for federal funds to be used for this purpose, they need to be appropriated by Congress. In addition to putting the funds (currently stated as $300 million in the current RFP) into the budget for the new fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2017, Congress will need to adopt a law authorizing this project. Failure to have authorizing legislation in place will open the project to a lawsuit. Federal contracts do not always pay quickly, and always pay in arrears. No small business is going to benefit from this contracting “opportunity”. Hello, Halliburton!
Geography. Caldwell highlights a few of the engineering and treaty challenges to designing and building this 30-foot wall. Before we even get to those challenges, any actual RFP will need to describe the exact location of the wall, which is a huge project in itself. Does the federal government have the right to build along every inch of the border? If not, is the survey done? Who is supposed to get the entitlements that permit the wall to be built? Is permission in place to get access to all the construction sites, or is their public road access to every inch of the border? Even a contract for the engineering and soils reports would require a huge amount of funding, and these would need to be repeated over and over since the geography differs along the border. These are among the “soft costs” that typically make up 10 to 20% of overall project costs, depending on how cooperate the land owners and local government are willing to be.
Legal challenges. Caldwell touches on the legal problems inherent in purchasing the miles of privately-held property on which the wall might be built, noting that the Trump administration has proposed substantial funding for lawyers in its budget proposal. I have also heard that the border patrol union does not want a solid wall; they want a wall they can see through. Several mayors in Texas and Arizona have expressed opposition to the wall; they may find ways to slow it down through lawsuits. I would also imagine that a taxpayers’ suit could be initiated that questions the expenditure of resources on a wall by referring to data that show that the majority of undocumented people in the U.S. enter as tourists or students, and stay. In border states and elsewhere, large numbers of British, Canadian, and Australian individuals stay on for years after their visas expire; in fact, twice as many Canadians than Mexicans overstay their visas. Hockey in Phoenix, anyone? The Canadian border is also highly porous for those who don’t come through with visas, yet Trump has not proposed walling off the northern border.
As I wrote in my first and second posts on this subject, the administration is only asking vendors to bid on building small, 1/3 scale prototypes that will be torn down within a week or two, presumably after a photo op (perhaps Trump will get his picture taken while playing with a battering ram!) As of this morning, 730 vendors have expressed interest in submitting a concept paper for consideration by the Department of Homeland Security. We will soon know how many actually submitted an email proposal, and which 20 companies have been selected to propose to build the mini-wall. If the Trump administration manages to get the prototype built and tested before September 30 (end of the fiscal year) it will be a triumph of administrative tenacity. Actually building any part of the wall itself is still a distant fantasy.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos