Border Wall Costs Could Grow 'Exponentially' Due to Poor Planning: DHS OIG

The costs associated with building President Donald Trump's border wall could grow "exponentially" due to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's poor planning ahead of construction, a new Homeland Security inspector general audit has found.

Released on Thursday, the audit was scathing in its criticism of CBP's handling of the border wall project, with the inspector general's office finding that the agency failed to find sufficient justification for building the border wall from the get-go.

From the start, the report said, CBP had not "demonstrated the acquisition capabilities needed to execute the Analyze/Select Phase of the Wall Acquisition Program effectively."

The agency, the DHS OIG report said, failed to conduct an analysis of alternatives to determine whether the border wall was "the most effective, appropriate, and affordable" solution to "obtain operational control of the southern border" as directed in Trump's executive order on securing the border, which was issued on January 25, 2017.

Instead, in an apparent rush to see the border wall built, CBP "relied on prior outdated border solutions to identify material alternatives for meeting its mission requirement."

Had CBP done so, the report said, the agency might have found that hiring more Border Patrol agents might have been a more effective and cost-efficient solution to better securing the southern border.

Ultimately, the report said, "constructing a border wall may be a viable option for some locations, but in other locations non-construction alternatives may be more feasible, and may best help CBP achieve operational control of the southern border."

Still, the DHS OIG's office said, "CBP has not fully demonstrated that it possesses the capability to potentially spend billions of dollars to execute a large-scale acquisition to secure the southern border."

The majority of the construction along the border, it said, has been accomplished using fiscal year 2017 appropriations, with CBP having expended $268 million of $341 million appropriated in FY 2017 to replace 39.5 miles of fencing.

The vast majority of the border wall fencing that has been erected has replaced pre-existing outdated or dilapidated structures.

"CBP also had expended $36.7 million of $1.375 billion appropriated to install or replace 7.2 of approximately 80 miles of border wall in FY 2018," the report added, noting that in FY 2019, $6.7 billion of Defense Department funds were also "reprogrammed for border construction."

Given the challenges identified, the report said, "CBP's inability to effectively guide this large-scale effort poses significant risk of exponentially increased costs."

"Until it takes corrective action to improve its acquisition planning and management, CBP will remain challenged as in the past; any future initiative may take longer than planned, cost more than expected, and deliver less capability than envisioned to secure the southern border," the report warned.

It offered a number of recommendations, including that the Under Secretary for Management of the DHS require CBP to "conduct an up-to-date independent Analysis of Alternatives to identify the most appropriate and effective solutions to obtain complete operational control of the southern border."

It is unclear, however, what would happen if the current approach, which has already led to the construction of more than 240 miles of border wall, was found to not be the most effective or appropriate solution.

While the DHS OIG's office said it recognized its report was critical of CBP and the DHS's implementation of Trump's January 2017 executive order, it said the "criticism is appropriate considering the cost and scope of a project as large as the construction of the southern border wall."

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump looks on before signing a plaque as he participates in a ceremony commemorating the 200th mile of border wall at the international border with Mexico in San Luis, Arizona, June 23, 2020. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty