Builders, not bureaucrats, should build the wall

There is a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), unauthorized immigrant crossings reached a 12-year high in 2019. Over 318,000 have attempted to enter illegally through the southern border since the beginning of fiscal year 2019. In the last two years alone, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested 266,000 aliens with criminal records, including 100,000 cases of assault, 30,000 cases of sex crimes, and 4,000 cases of homicide. The ability to easily enter our nation illegally puts the American people at risk.

When Congress was not willing to address this crisis, President Trump took action. He declared a national emergency to put more troops on the ground and to construct the physical barriers along the southern border our immigration law enforcement has requested. The President is fulfilling his promise to secure the border and build the wall, and American people deserve swift and sufficient action.

The first step in taking this action is deciding who builds the wall. The majority of the funds appropriated in Fiscal Years (FY) 2017 and 2018 to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the purpose of constructing physical barriers on the southern border have been contracted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While President Trump prides himself on completing projects “on time and under budget,” this phrase cannot be used to characterize the work of the Army Corps.

For example, millions of the FY17 and FY18 dollars still remain unused. Furthermore, the portions of the wall that are under construction are being built at the exceptionally slow rate of a few hundred feet of wall per day. If this continues, DHS and the Army Corps will barely be able to use the money designated for the wall in the FY19 appropriations package before the end of the President’s first term, let alone the funds mobilized through the President’s emergency declaration. Below are three of many specific examples where the Army Corps wasted taxpayer funds and moved egregiously slow in constructing physical barriers along the southern border.

First, in July of 2017, procurement began for a border construction project in California. The USACE awarded this job that November to SWF Constructors, a group founded less than a year before they bid the job, and an affiliate of Edgewood who had been flagged by the government for fraud. This choice received pushback, including from House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson who wrote, “It seems DHS has awarded a contract to a brand new company with questionable connections and without the proper prior performance.” Construction was not completed until late October of 2018, with constructors averaging just 50 feet of fencing per day.

Then, in June of 2018, after a 1¢-year procurement process, the Army Corps awarded a $22 million contract to West Point Contractors to construct a four-mile section of border fence in El Paso. The contractor has been allotted over 150 working days to complete only four miles of fence (about 140 feet of production per day). Even at this slow pace, the lengthy procurement process will still have taken over 3 times as long as the time allotted for construction.

Finally, in December of 2018, after a four-month procurement process, a $287 million, 29-mile border wall contract was awarded to SLS Construction, a contract manager who solely manages subcontractors. Construction for this project commenced in February of 2019, and the contract completion date is expected to be in mid-2020. Here we see government bureaucracy at its finest: DHS contracted border wall construction to the Army Corps, and the Army Corps then subcontracted to a second intermediary (SLS) who will then subcontract the subcontract to companies that will actually do the work. Each intermediary takes a cut along the way, and the American people have no real mechanism to ensure any of the work is done on time.

These are just a few examples of why the overblown bureaucracy is ill-equipped to build the wall. Completing an important project on time and under budget as the president expects and the American people deserve requires a fundamental change in the way we operate. For this reason I have urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to not subcontract this project out to the Army Corps and to instead find a reputable and capable private contractor that DHS can work with directly.

This is why I took a trip to Arizona where I watched a private company demonstrate how they could do something seemingly unprecedented: construct physical barriers quickly and efficiently at nearly a mile of wall per day. This is the kind of private sector innovation the American people deserve. These companies are also naturally incentivized to meet assigned goals, as they are only paid for what they build, instead of bureaucrats who are funded no matter the outcome. As this project moves forward, I will continue fighting for reforms that spend taxpayer money wisely, hold Washington accountable, and ensure the wall actually gets built. Physical barriers along the southern border should be constructed by builders, not bureaucrats.

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