GAO Pokes at Breaches in Border Wall Plans



Wondering about the status of that U.S.-Mexico border wall? The Government Accountability Office has some doubly disheartening news.

In a 49-page report, the federal agency found that the Department of Homeland Security “did not analyze cost when prioritizing border segment(s)” and that the project could “take longer than planned.”

“DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border. 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 GAO report concluded.

It’s hard to imagine that Donald Trump would build a hotel, or anything else, without a firm grasp of the costs involved. Yet DHS and its Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division are not only painfully slow in fulfilling the president’s signature pledge, but apparently under-informed about its expense.

CBP estimates that constructing barriers at its top 17 priority locations will run $18 billion across 722 miles. But that estimate was based on an average cost per mile and is “not intended to reflect the costs of individual construction projects,” GAO noted.

Citing federal “Leading Practices in Capital Decision Making,” GAO said when evaluating where to make capital investments, agencies “should conduct financial analyses in order to prioritize investments that allow the organization to obtain the greatest benefits for the least cost.”

“Without assessing costs as part of the prioritization process, CBP does not have complete information to know whether it is prioritizing locations that will use its limited resources in the most cost-effective manner,” GAO stated in its report.

GAO’s investigation came in response to a request from three Democrats in Congress: Sen. Claire McCaskill, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Rep. Bernie Thompson, of the House Committee on Homeland Security; and Rep. Filemon Vela, of the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

The lawmakers haven’t commented on the report, but it makes interesting, if discouraging, reading for taxpayers anxious to know how their money is being spent and how their government operates. It’s a far cry from the expeditious cost-containment culture of Trump’s construction ventures in the private sector.

DHS concurred (as if it could do otherwise) with the GAO’s recommendation to analyze the costs associated with future barrier segments and to include cost as a factor in the department’s clumsily titled “Impedance and Denial Prioritization Strategy.” It’s about time.

From fiscal 2007 to 2015, $2.3 billion was spent to deploy physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico line. As of March 2018, there were 654 miles of border barriers — 354 miles of primary pedestrian barriers and 300 miles of primary vehicle barriers.

The White House is seeking $5 billion in border wall funding from Congress. A House bill contains that amount; the Senate version includes $1.6 billion. Both will likely be stalled until after the midterm elections.

With 2,000 miles of southwest border expanse to cover, a greater sense of urgency, and competence, is in order. Based on time expended and costs incurred thus far, smart advice from Vegas oddsmakers seems appropriate: Take the “over” on both propositions.

About Author

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Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

10 Comments

  1. avatar
    Robert See Allen on

    Until the wall gets build, line the border with barbed wire tangles, poison oak, and beehives. Cheap deterrents.

  2. avatar

    I would rather spend tax money on a wall to protect our country and the duly created laws of the land than to just get taxed and spend on all the special programs created to accommodate the illegals who do not attempt to learn our language or obey our laws.

  3. avatar

    Why doesn’t the US Army Corps of Engineers build the wall with DOD funds? If the DOD can spend $$ to buy sandbags and timbers to build field fortifications to protect US soldiers, why can ‘t it spend $$ to build a fortification to defend US civilians? Isn’t that the mission for the DOD, to defend us from foreign invaders?

  4. avatar
    Stephen Russell on

    According to Huckabee, Mexico will pay for wall via tariffs etc, MikeHuckabee newsletter

  5. avatar

    Does this run anything along the lines of government bought hammers for $300? Concrete highway sound barriers are pretty tall and thick. They cost approximately $2 million a mile. 18 billion seems like a lot of money, with much of it going into certain pockets.

    The left is all giddy over Andrew Gillum winning the Democratic nod for governor in FL. That might be counting chickens before they hatch. It’s a winner take all primary and he won barely over a third of the Democratic vote. There is no way his agenda is going to go over in a state that voted for Trump and where he still enjoys good approval ratings. They could have picked a moderate and had a chance in November but as usual it’s all about who can out-slogan each other.

  6. avatar

    We can spend trillions defending other countries all over the world but spending just a few billions to protect the lives of Americans here at home and block the mass importation of illegal drugs into our society by drug cartels is too costly according to open borders advocates. We’re the country that sent men to walk on the moon several times, but we supposedly can’t build a border wall? Give me a break.

    Here is some more info about the Mexican drug cartels.

    From the BBC:

    Mexico’s most-wanted: A guide to the drug cartels

    By Duncan Tucker Guadalajara, Mexico

    27 March 2018

    “….these (smaller) gangs deal in kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, illegal logging and mining, and stealing oil from government pipelines.

    Are things better or worse than they were?

    The level of violence dropped after the election of President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012, but it has shot up dramatically in the last two years, with 2017 on course to be the worst year on record.

    Activists and journalists are routinely murdered, while corruption and impunity remain rampant.

    The legalisation of marijuana in parts of the US has driven Mexico’s cartels to push harder drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.

    This has fuelled an epidemic north of the border, with provisional figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, up 21% from the previous year.

    How violent are the cartels?

    Mexico’s cartels are notorious for their extreme violence. Beheadings and torture have become commonplace over the past decade.

    Victims are sometimes hung from bridges or dissolved in barrels of acid. Some cartels post graphic execution videos on social media to intimidate their enemies.”

  7. avatar

    Designing the least costly wall to keep border jumpers out of our sovereign territory shouldn’t be rocket science. And, even if it were, we’ve proven that we have an ample number of such intelligent men and women among our citizenry. After WW2, we even brought in suspected former Nazi’s to build ICBM’s and win the race to the moon. Surely we could bring in some ISRAELI’s to do THIS job – they have some really nice walls and fortifications to keep homicide bombers and Somali grifters out of their country!

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