According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office–a nonpartisan governmental agency that provides auditing services for the United States Congress–neither Donald Trump nor the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has a clue about how much the border wall with Mexico will actually cost.
The GAO’s report, which was released at the end of July, is titled “CBP Is Evaluating Designs and Locations for Border Barriers but Is Proceeding Without Key Information.” It describes how even while CBP has tested prototypes of wall designs and determined locations for the wall–it “didn’t analyze the costs of putting barriers in each potential location.” Without doing so, “CBP doesn’t have complete information for prioritizing barrier deployments in the most cost-effective manner.”
In other words, the administration is totally winging this one, and with your taxpayer money no less. Here are a few more highlights from the report which, again, is the product of a federal office established to keep watch for wasteful government spending.
“[CPB] didn’t analyze the costs of putting barriers in each potential location. These costs can vary depending on topography, land ownership, and other factors.”
“Can vary” is a gross understatement. These costs will vary wildly. Even if CPB knows what wall it wants to build, if it hasn’t considered how much it will cost to erect along a 1,989-mile piece of land, its true cost is unknown. Complex and forbidding terrain will pose serious construction challenges, and many current landowners could initiate long, expensive legal battles over eminent domain. Here’s another gem, emphasis mine:
Acquisitions for the Border Wall System Program—DHS’s program to deploy barriers and other assets along the southwest border—are required to follow the department’s acquisition process. However, GAO found that for one of the two approved segments, DHS has not documented its plans as required. Specifically, GAO found that for the Rio Grande Valley segment, DHS leadership approved and documented plans in December 2017. In contrast, for the San Diego secondary barrier segment, CBP’s plans have not yet been documented, which could hinder DHS’s ability to monitor progress for the segment.
And that’s only one segment of nearly 2,000 miles of wall. Whether you view the wall as simply a feeble-minded, fear-driven fantasy or a scam meant to entice voters, it seems clear that Trump and the CBP’s $18 billion estimate is the stuff of wildly uninformed myth.
Unsurprisingly, the GAO’s report recommends, “among other things, further analysis of the costs to build future barriers.” Until that happens–and it’s unclear if it ever will–know that any budgetary figures the administration cite amount to a lie. But the actual bill that taxpayers will foot? That’s real.