Biden Pauses Border Wall Work, Halts Funding


Shortly after being sworn into office on Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation putting a pause to construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and rescinded the national emergency declaration that allowed funds from the Defense Department budget to be diverted to the project.

“Like every nation, the United States has a right and a duty to secure its borders and protect its people against threats,” the proclamation states. “But building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”

While the proclamation is split up into two parts (redirecting those funds and pausing construction), it does not shut down the projects.

In the construction section, the proclamation outlines that the government will assess the legality of the funding and contracting methods used to construct the wall, as well as assess the administrative and contractual consequences of ceasing each project, among other measures.

In terms of a complete stoppage, there are differing opinions on what that means financially.

Mark Morgan, Acting Commissioner at the time for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, speculated to Border Report in December that it would cost the government billions of dollars to halt all construction projects.

While no one can confirm an exact amount, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates that contract terminations costs would be approximately $700 million and there is currently around $3.3 billion in unused border wall funds.

Biden’s proclamation stresses the investigation of the details of each contract. In addition, an imminent immigration bill that is slated from the President’s desk includes language for funding increased technology and “infrastructure” and ports of entry, which means that at least some of the border plans will likely go forward, such as a new surveillance tower and buoy barrier system project that was announced in August.

If the government does decide to terminate all projects, it will need to look at the labor and material that is already complete, stored material that can’t be returned, heavy equipment purchases and the stabilization of unfinished projects, as well as potential costs of removing completed pieces.

About 450 miles of wall construction was completed during the Trump administration, including about 80 miles of new infrastructure.

Project Saga Background

In September 2017, the first border wall contracts were awarded to four different companies to develop prototypes that would work in conjunction with the border in the San Diego area. At the time, U.S. special forces spent weeks attempting to breach the eight prototype models of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which proved to withstand jackhammers, torches and climbing tools.

Since then, the government has worked to speed up the project. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that any environmental regulations regarding the construction or repair of a section of the border wall for certain areas in Texas would be waived, drawing ire from environmentalists and private property owners alike. The announcement detailed exemptions in Cameron County; another announcement made the following day detailed similar measures for Hidalgo County.

Through the course of late 2018 and into 2019, construction began on section of border wall gates in the Rio Grande Valley sector, with several million in border wall contracts being awarded for work elsewhere.

However, at the beginning of 2019, reports revealed that all eight border wall prototypes were susceptible to breaching. According to NBC News, testing conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that all prototypes, including the steel slat design, were vulnerable to damage from easily accessible tools. For example, the steel slat prototype could be cut through with a saw.

In mid-2019, a judge blocked the president’s use of money originally intended for military funding, for work on the border wall. The injunction only accounted for roughly $1 billion in funding for the border wall, money that the Department of Defense had funneled away from Army personnel to the Department of Homeland Security.

In July, over a week after a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from using $2.5 billion in funding for the border wall, CBP and the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $33 million contract for four miles of border wall work in Texas. Environmental regulations for that section of structure were also waived. August also saw the award of another $305 million in contracts.

In September, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper approved $3.6 billion in funding—largely pulled from military construction projects, including housing—to go toward building 175 miles of the border wall. At the end of that same month, Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, reported that roughly a mile of border wall is being built every day.

By December, the project saw additional funding stemming from canceled military projects being assigned to three new contracts for the construction of over 30 miles of replacement fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, totaling $316 million in work.

That same month, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration from transferring $3.6 billion in Pentagon funds for new border wall barriers when it attempted to commander funds for the border wall that had already been authorized by Congress for other purposes.

The following month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based out of New Orleans, ruled 2-1 that a certain set of Department of Defense funding could be used for border wall construction and lifted the injunction. The Washington Post reports that due to this ruling, the president and his administration viewed the matter as an invitation to take money again in 2020.

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While the proclamation is split up into two parts (redirecting those funds and pausing construction), it does not shut down the projects.

However, it was announced later in January that Trump was gearing up to divert $7.2 billion of military funds to use for barrier construction in the U.S.-Mexico border wall project. To break down where the funds will come from, the President intended to use $3.5 billion from counternarcotic programs and $3.7 billion intended for construction projects.

In June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump wouldn’t be permitted to divert $2.5 billion of military funds to the construction of the wall, as the action was considered an attempt by the president to skirt Congress. Even though the funds were transferred under a declaration of national emergency, Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas penned the ruling, proclaiming that the action was a violation of the Appropriations Clause and therefore considered “unlawful.”

Despite the ruling on funding, the July 2019 stay granted by the Supreme Court allows construction to continue on the wall.

And in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a lower court’s dismissal of House of Democrats’ lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s authority to use Defense Department funds for construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. In a 3-0 decision, the appeals court issued a decision permitting Democrats in Congress to challenge Trump’s use of military funds for the construction of the border wall.

Previously, the lawsuit was previously dismissed by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, ruling that the House lacked the authority to sue in April 2019.

The appeals panel—made up of Senior Circuit judges David B. Sentelle, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins—cited that the House had been cut out of its “constitutionally indispensable legislative role” when Trump unilaterally moved roughly $8 billion to border wall construction.

That same month, United States Customs and Border Protection officials reported that the Trump administration was considering having more than 80 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border wall located in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo, Texas, painted black.

Agency officials told CNN an epoxy coating is being considered for when future barriers are built and could cost the project an extra $1 million per mile.

One of the last decisions to take place came in December, when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals approved the Trump administration’s plan in a 2-1 decision to divert $3.6 billion in funding from more than 100 military construction projects for border wall construction.

The decision overturned the lower court’s decision made by U.S. District Judge David Briones in 2019.

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 9:46 a.m., Jan. 22, 2021, to clarify a previous report and add previously published information regarding the U.S.-Mexico border wall prototypes.


Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; Government; Government contracts; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; President Biden; President Trump

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