- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2013

The Homeland Security Department spent $600,000 apiece to build houses in Arizona that would have gone for less than $100,000, according to a report in the Arizona Republic that’s raising questions in Congress.

“This type of spending is irresponsible as our nation faces significant budget deficits and the men and women in the Border Patrol face cuts in overtime that are essential to their mission,” Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, said in a statement Friday.

The Republic said Homeland Security built 21 homes and bought 20 other mobile homes for $15 million. Comparable homes go for between $70,000 and $100,000, the paper said. The homes were built to be rented to border agents and officers.

Homeland Security officials repeatedly refused to answer the newspaper’s questions about the project, the Republic said.

Mr. Barber is the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee’s oversight panel, and said he will use that role to get to the bottom of the spending.

Michael Friel, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said they worked with the General Services Administration, which is in charge of government buildings, to buy the land and construct the homes, as well as to build roads and sewer and water lines for an additional 25 units. He said the homes has to be built because there wasn’t enough rental housing in the area for border agents and officers.

“These homes have been constructed in line with federally mandated requirements, designed for long-term use with minimal maintenance in a harsh climate,” Mr. Friel said.

He said the homes were built as Energy Star-rated homes and are 75 percent more efficient than the average homes in the area. The employees who use the homes pay rent in line with the local market.