Former Administration Officials Question Need for Continuous Concrete Wall Across Southern Border

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today raised concerns about the cost and effectiveness of a continuous concrete wall across the entire Southern border during a hearing with former administration officials. Former Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officials shared her concerns and emphasized the need for added technology in order to increase border security.

“The Department [of Homeland Security] has told us they plan to use funds intended to acquire remote video surveillance for prototypes of the concrete wall,” McCaskill said. “The $20 million they’re using to do the prototypes came out of the very fund that all the border patrol agents told me they needed more of.” When asked about the changing priorities of technology, personnel and fencing and other infrastructure at the border, Former Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar confirmed that “the ranking now is technology definitively first, just about anywhere around the border.”

McCaskill also discussed the costs and difficulties of the land acquisition that would be required for constructing the border wall that President Trump discussed on the campaign trail. “According to Customs and Border Protection, the Government has spent about $78 million on land acquisition for existing fencing. And those were the parcels that were the easiest to acquire. Nobody I’ve asked can tell me just how much it’s going to cost to seize the rest of the land that will be needed to build the wall.” While there are currently 90 lawsuits over acquisitions that are still pending—most from 2008—Customs and Border Protection has estimated that they can complete land acquisitions in 12-24 months.  In responding to a question from McCaskill, Professor Terence M. Garrett from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley stated that the U.S. government historically tends to underestimate the cost of land acquisition.

Today is the deadline for companies to submit bids to build prototypes for the wall to the Department of Homeland Security. The contract ceiling for each procurement is $300 million. At a recent staff-level briefing, Customs and Border Patrol officials indicated that the Administration budget blueprint for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 will request approximately $2.6 billion to construct fewer than 75 miles of new border wall and associated infrastructure. This results in an average cost of $36.6 million per mile. CBP also informed McCaskill’s committee staff that 1,827 miles of the border could contain a physical barrier—thus if the per-mile costs in the 2018 budget request are extrapolated, the barrier often described by the President could cost as much as $66.9 billion.