Republican Alleges $1 Billion Wasted on Border Wall Suspension

  • Border panel minority’s analysis shows sunk contract costs
  • Oklahoma senator pledges oversight, pushes wall completion

The Biden administration is wasting millions of dollars a day in suspension costs for the U.S.-Mexico border wall after the president halted most construction on his first day in office, a Republican senator said in a new analysis.

Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), the top Republican on the Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee, released a report Wednesday detailing more than $1.8 billion in costs so far for suspending or terminating border wall contracts.

“It’s just getting the facts out there,” Lankford said in an interview Wednesday, adding that wall construction could help address the record number of migrant encounters U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported this year.

Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., in June 2021.

“It’s actually getting worse each month,” he said, while government contractors “sit and watch the construction materials.”

The border wall was one of then-President Donald Trump’s signature immigration policies. When Congress refused to provide the full funding Trump requested, he declared a national emergency and diverted billions of dollars from military accounts. More than 450 miles of wall were constructed—mostly along sections of the border that had existing, outdated barriers—before President Joe Biden halted work.

Lankford’s report comes as the senator increasingly pushes the Biden administration on border security and immigration issues. Last week, he announced he was using a legislative maneuver to slow the confirmation process for all Department of Homeland Security nominees until the administration answers questions about the border wall suspension and immigration enforcement.

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Cancellation Costs

Lankford’s report relies on numbers from court filings and communications between Defense Department officials and Republican staffers on the border management subcommittee, which is part of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Defense officials said the agency initially spent $6 million a day, and now $3 million a day, for contractors to secure the sites of seven projects funded through military construction accounts, according to the report. Court filings estimated the department would spend $180 million in contract termination costs for those projects—totaling at least $798 million to scrap those seven projects, according to the report.

Court filings also estimated more than $1 billion in suspension and termination costs for border wall projects funded by Defense Department counterdrug and counternarcotic accounts.

“This policy decision raises significant concerns about the Biden Administration’s immigration agenda and requires both Congressional oversight and legislative action,” the report says.

Lankford last week offered an unsuccessful amendment during a markup of noncontroversial bills in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that would require the government to move forward with existing contracts.

Democrats, however, are standing by the administration’s actions. “As stewards of the taxpayers’ money, it is both legal and prudent to put construction on hold to evaluate whether or not the Trump administration’s use of these funds was efficient or effective,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said earlier this year.

“It is clear from our current situation that it was neither, and previous reporting shows that President Trump’s approach to addressing this challenge was often inhumane and shameful.”

Pentagon Funds

The Biden administration in June announced that it would plan to return to the Pentagon’s coffers about $2.2 billion that had been allocated for the border wall.

The Pentagon repeatedly transferred funds from weapons and military construction projects into the Defense Department’s counternarcotics account, which the Trump administration used to help fund the wall along the Mexican border.

Despite strong GOP support for Trump—and the wall—Republicans on the congressional defense panels had objected to the repeated shifting of funds from congressionally supported programs for weapons and military construction.

On some of the military construction projects, Pentagon officials argued the projects were only temporarily losing funding because they were being deferred, not canceled. The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com; Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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