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.