2019-12-05 18:51:151 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Bennie Thompson (Image source: Public domain)
Everything seems to be piling on Donald Trump right now. Not only is he facing very realistic chances of impeachment, but he is also failing at every turn to keep his financial records and tax returns private. On top of that, a House chairman is calling for an investigation into the border wall contract that was given to a company that the president was heavily touting.
At this point, the border wall construction is serious business for Trump. He made all sorts of promises regarding a border wall between the United States and Mexico while campaigning in 2016, and with only one year left until the next presidential election, he needs to make good on those promises. He hasn't had much success with it, but he needs to have many miles of border wall built in the next year. And now this investigation could prevent that from happening.
The Defense Department announced on Monday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had chosen Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. to build 31 miles of new barrier at the border across the southern edge of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma, Arizona, a $400 million contract.
The construction company is charging approximately $13 million per mile, a price that was lower than the other two companies that were bidding on the project. Additionally, they are meeting the technical specs that the Army Corps requested, according to an administration official, and because they had the lowest bid, there was an obligation for them to be selected, unless it is determined they made an unrealistic bid.
But Fisher wasn't one of the companies the Army Corps selected initially as qualified in the $10 billion contracts for the border barrier construction. Curiously, Tommy Fisher, the CEO of the company, made multiple appearances, including at Fox News, promoting his company and saying they could build the barrier more quickly and for less of a cost to the government.
Fisher is also a Republican donor and had Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) speak to the president on behalf of his company. The Army Corps was accused by Cramer of not treating Fisher fairly. He even stalled the confirmation of a nominee to the White House budget office trying to force the Army Corps to provide copies of the bids of other construction firms.
The construction company was included for the first time in the group of eligible bidders last month and was then awarded the $400 million contract, the first major contract for the border wall.
House Committee on Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) called for an investigation into the contract on Wednesday. He sent a letter to the Defense Department Office of Inspector General, noting that he was suspicious of the decision to award Fisher with the large contract. He mentioned Trump promoting Fisher to the Army Corps multiple times and that the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security recently visited the privately-financed barrier Fisher built outside El Paso.
"These actions raise concerns about the possibility of inappropriate influence on USACE's contracting decision," wrote Thompson. "Therefore, I am requesting that you review the award of this contract to ensure that the bid submitted by Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. met the solicitation standards and that USACE made the award in accordance with federal procurement law and regulations."
Cramer was asked about Thompson's concerns and replied, "You'd have to ask the [Army Corps] about the process," adding, "It's my understanding from General Semonite that Fisher, a prequalified builder, responded to the [request for proposals] with an acceptable design with the low bid."
Army Corps spokesperson Raini Brunson said they "will fully cooperate with a review of our contracting process," adding, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awards contracts in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation and its supplements."
"Companies are awarded contracts when they are determined to provide the best value to the government for the particular procurement action being undertaken. It is not uncommon for companies that submit offers on government contracts over a period of time to provide both unsuccessful and successful offers."
Fisher has also worked with a Steve Bannon-led activist group, We Build the Wall, and other right-wing Trump backers who are building new border barriers on private land with online donations worth millions of dollars. They completed new barrier outside El Paso, Texas, last summer, with Fisher doing the construction.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited the new barrier last month. The structure was praised as a "game-changer" by the top Border Patrol official for the area. The same group is planning on building a new 3.5-mile stretch of barrier along the Rio Grande on land that it says Fisher purchased.
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday that stopped Fisher's bulldozers after the director of a neighboring wildlife sanctuary, the National Butterfly Center, said the barrier will inflict irreparable harm on the local ecosystem.
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