Terminating border-wall contracts would cost ‘billions,’ says CBP head, but US has options

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2 Trump administration contract summaries obtained by Border Report show termination dates of 2022

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — President-elect Joe Biden has promised his administration would not build any more border wall, but terminating the contracts could cost “billions” of dollars U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said this week.

In anticipation of projects possible being curtailed, contractors across the Southwest appear to be speeding up construction, which all will factor into the settlements they could get. The Trump administration has completed over 430 miles of new border wall, Morgan said Monday on a media call, adding “I’m very confident that we’re going to meet our mark, our goal that we have set of 450 miles by the end of the calendar year.”

In latest border-wall ceremony before election, DHS leader commemorates 400th mile

To meet this goal, construction crews are working all hours of the day, nights and weekends, too, especially in remote areas of Arizona where sections of border wall can cost as much as $41 million per mile. Entire sections of mountaintops are being blasted, Border Report has witnessed, with environmentalists complaining that there is no limit to the destruction the administration is wreaking on environmentally sensitive wilderness areas due to the massive amount of environmental waivers that have been issued.

A section of Guadalupe Canyon in southeastern Arizona is seen Oct. 19, 2020, being blasted by border wall constructors. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)
Special movable border wall flood gates are seen being installed on Oct. 22, 2020, in the San Pedro River Valley in southeastern Arizona. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But to put a sudden halt to all of this construction would be costly and wasteful, Morgan said. How much money exactly is uncertain as each settlement would individually be negotiated under a termination for convenience clause that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would determine based on miles so far completed, and materials purchased.

But Morgan speculated it “would probably be billions of dollars.” He said 270,000 tons of steel bollards that have already been built or are being built would go unused and possibly be destroyed. And he speculated there could even be added storage costs for the steel.

“Just more cost to the taxpayers for nothing,” he said Monday.

Border wall steel bollards are stored on a dirt lot in Mission, Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas who is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said he doubts the efforts would be a complete waste, and he is advocating that if Biden halts border wall construction that the technology still be installed along the Southwest border. This includes infrared cameras, flood lights, and all-weather roads for Border Patrol agents to better traverse the borderlands.

Border Report recently obtained two border wall contract summaries for projects in Cuellar’s hometown of Laredo, Texas. Although the contracts are deemed a matter of national security and not privy to public release, Cuellar received summaries of the contracts from the Department of Homeland Security by making a legislative request for the information.

What DHS sent him had most information redacted, but the contract completion dates were listed as 2022. The summaries he received were for:

Cuellar last week led a delegation of congressional lawmakers who sent Biden a letter advocating that he terminate all border wall contracts and stop all border wall construction, as well as remove environmental waivers, rescind the national emergency declaration and reprogrammed funding and dismiss all land condemnation suits related to the border wall.

Lawmakers tell Biden to rescind border wall contracts, military money for wall

Under rules for terminating government contracts, a “termination for convenience” is the “government’s right to bring to an end the performance of all or part of the work provided for under a contract prior to the expiration of the contract “when it is in the Government’s interest” to do so” according to Congressional Research Service rules, which states the government cannot be held liable for breach when it exercises its right to terminate contracts for convenience because it has the contractual and/or inherent right to do so.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is vice chair of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee

Cuellar says the settlements with contractors to terminate the agreements will depend upon how much work has been completed and in the case of these two Laredo contracts, in which construction has not begun, he does not believe the companies should be entitled to very much.

“The settlement of that will depend where they are on the contract but if somebody really hasn’t done anything and they got a contract I don’t see much settlement on that for services provided, or materials provided, as opposed to somebody who has already started construction,” Cuellar said. “It all depends on where they are on the process of work.”

To initiate a contract termination, the Biden administration would have to serve contractors a notice and the companies then would have a certain amount of time to submit their cost settlement requests, which would be negotiated and approved by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers.

But if certain elements of the contract were still requested, such as the implementation of lights and technology, then the contracts would have to be renegotiated and reissued with those stipulations.

Infrared cameras and lighting is seen in San Diego near Otay Mesa on Sept. 24, 2019, built as part of new border wall construction. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Cuellar said the average cost to build 1 mile of border wall is $26.5 million. However, the cost to put in 1 mile of technology along the border is about $1 million. The cost savings, he suggests, can be used for border personnel in other ways.

“Once the president-elect gives the order to stop the wall then the money will go back into the account of Homeland and they can use it for technology and for new equipment for Border Patrol, for new facilities, new technology at ports of entry and to hire more CPB officers,” Cuellar said.

Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan on Oct. 29, 2020, speaks to media during a ceremony in McAllen, Texas, to commemorate the 400th mile of new border wall built. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But Morgan disagrees and says costs will increase if contractors are ordered to restore areas, such as dig up rebar and trenches.

“The substantive reality, with respect to the impacts of stopping construction — in other words of terminating contracts — is consider costs directly to American taxpayers when we walk away,” Morgan said. “People need to know that this is what the reality is.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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