Homeland Security cut corners in deciding where to build President Trump’s border wall, and still hasn’t been able to put any of the new designs the president demanded into operation, the government’s chief watchdog said in a new report Monday.
The new administration was more interested in getting started on wall-building than in a cost-benefit analysis to figure out the best locations to stem the flow of people and drugs, the Government Accountability Office said.
And the $20 million spent to build eight prototypes of Mr. Trump’s new border wall designs — including four concrete walls, at the president’s request — appear to have done more to warn officials what not to do.
All four concrete designs would create “extensive” challenges if they were to be deployed along the tricky border terrain. And two of the non-concrete designs also were rated tough to build.
None of the eight designs were deemed project-ready, the GAO concluded. The government now says it won’t adopt any of the eight designs, saying instead that it has learned lessons and will try to incorporate those into future wall-building plans.
“DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border,” the new GAO audit says. “However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected,” the audit concluded.”
Katie Waldman, a spokesperson for Homeland Security, said walls have a track record of helping cut illegal border activity, and said they remain committed to building more.
“Walls have proven to be extremely effective at deterring illegal entries and the smuggling of illicit drugs into the United States,” she said.
Ms. Waldman also said that while their first step in figuring new wall locations was looking at places that were most in need of a wall, they did do a cost analysis as well.
“Americans deserve a secure border that protects our communities and keeps America safe and this administration is doing so by constructing the first border wall in a decade,” she said.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, who requested the GAO report, said it showed the administration was placing politics above practicality.
“To be blunt, this administration has no clue what it is doing and must be held accountable,” the congressman said.
He said the money already being spent — several hundred million dollars in 2017 and $1.6 billion on infrastructure this fiscal year — “is just a gift to contractors and the president’s political base.”
Mr. Thompson said the report should be a must-read for Congress, which is currently debating how much to allocate in fiscal year 2019 toward Mr. Trump’s wall plans.
The Senate’s homeland security spending bill includes $1.6 billion. The House version includes $5 billion.
In an official response to Monday’s report Jim H. Crumpacker, Homeland Security’s liaison to the GAO, disputed the finding that the department had cut corners in the usual procurement and cost-benefit analysis process — though he acknowledged “intense pressure” to get something done.
“Despite an aggressive schedule and intense pressure to quickly yield results, we are committed to following sound acquisition practices and are focused on deliberative analysis to support our plans,” he wrote.