Among the things President-elect Joe Biden can genuinely look forward to is a report from the Congressional watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (the GAO) on how the Army Corps of Engineers awarded contracts to build President Donald Trump’s pet project, the wall on the US-Mexico border. It’s expected to be released early next year and if follows the path of recently completed investigations, it’s likely to savagely undermine Trump’s estimation of himself as a master builder.
In 2017, when he took charge of the White House, Trump promised to build a thousand miles of new border walls for between $8 and $12 billion, to be paid for by Mexico. By 2020, the Administration had let $10 billion in wall contracts, to produce 500 miles of border barriers. A report filed back in July by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General predicted even those huge numbers would blow up if the Corps and DHS’ Customs and Border Protection service didn’t get a grip.
The Inspector General’s report blamed poor planning and a rushed timeline and warned, without management changes the wall project “may take longer than planned, cost more than expected and deliver less than envisioned to secure the southern border.”
Homeland Security and Border Patrol’s response to this scorching critique was telling. “Don’t blame us,” they said, “We’re only following the president’s orders.”
And since July, the IG’s report notwithstanding, evidence suggests, DHS, CPB and the Corps of Engineers have stuck with the White House plan, only more so, spending money and putting up bollards even faster to build as many miles of wall as possible before the new president can pull the plug.
How contracting costs for the border wall have blown up, and how lucrative contracts have been concentrated among a tiny group of select contractors have been revealed in the investigative reporting of our guest today Jeremy Schwartz of the Texas Tribune and Pro Publica and his reporting partners Perla Trevizo and Lexi Churchill.
Jeremy Schwartz has been an investigative reporter in Texas for nearly a decade, covering issues including voting rights and border security for the Austin American-Statesman and USA Today Network. His work has resulted in the overhaul of Texas’ inspection process for farmworker housing, sparked Congressional investigations of a failed Department of Veterans Affairs research program and uncovered misleading border arrest and drug seizure statistics maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Schwartz won the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Latino Issues award for his 2017 investigation into the political underrepresentation of Latinos in Texas cities and counties, and the Headliners Foundation of Texas Reporter of the Year award, among other honors. He previously served as Cox Newspapers’ Latin America correspondent in Mexico City from 2005 to 2009, and before that, he covered the U.S. Border Patrol and immigration at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.