Construction crews work to erect levee wall system in a remote area south of Weslaco, Texas in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. Jan. 13, 2019.

Construction crews work to erect levee wall system in a remote area south of Weslaco, Texas in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. Jan. 13, 2019. CBP / Glenn Fawcett

DHS to Waive Contracting Rules to Build Border Wall Faster

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is using a 2005 law to override certain requirements.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration said it is going to waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of the border wall between the United States and Mexico.

The Homeland Security Department is using a 2005 law to waive 10 procurement regulations and allow the government to build 177 miles of border wall faster in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The “waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin,” the Associated Press reported

“Congress has given the department authority to waive a number of laws and regulations when it comes to building border barriers and border roads,” saidacting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Fox News. “The department has used that authority 21 times. Mostly waiving environmental regulations and laws. Today we are going to start waiving those for procurement regulations and laws as well. It allows us to speed up a lot of our contracts that the Army Corps has. Anywhere from 30 to 45 to 60 days. We hope that will accelerate some of the construction going on along the Southwest border.”

The 2005 Real ID Act gives the Homeland Security Department vast discretion in waiving laws that can get in the way of constructing a barrier along the Southwest border. 

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The administration said it will waive the regulations for contractors who have already been vetted and the looser rules will “apply to projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award in six of nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border,” the Associated Press reported. “The Army Corps is tasked with awarding $6.1 billion that the Department of Defense transferred for wall construction last year after Congress gave Trump only a fraction of the money. The administration has been able to spend that money during legal challenges.”

The Associated Press also reported that the Trump administration has issued 16 waivers under this law (compared to five under President George W. Bush) , but this is the first time it is being used for federal contracting regulations. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, was quick to criticize the move.

“President Trump broke his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall,” Thompson said in a statement. “Now he’s not only sticking the American people with the bill, but also waiving procurement laws meant to protect taxpayers from government waste, fraud and abuse. His cronies are likely to be the beneficiaries, while we are left overpaying for border wall that doesn’t work or, as we saw recently, literally falls over.”

In his State of the Union Address on Feb. 4, President Trump spoke about the progress on his promise to build the wall, despite fierce pushback from Congress. “We have now completed over 100 miles and will have over 500 miles fully completed by early next year,” he said.

In his $4.8 trillion budget proposal submitted to Congress last Monday, Trump requested a 3% funding increase for Homeland Security. He requested $2 billion for the border wall, which is $3 billion less than the White House sought last year. However, last week the administration said it wants to reprogram almost $4 billion in Defense Department fiscal 2020 funds to pay for the wall, Defense Onereported.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Heather Swift said the waivers will be used for wall construction in six high-traffic border sectors. “The United States remains in a border emergency with more than 36,000 individuals caught trying to illegally enter our country and 54,000 pounds of narcotics seized at the southwest border in January alone,” she said.  “President Trump is fulfilling his promise to the American people to secure the border."  

This story was updated with comment from Homeland Security.