Trump to spend $300 million on “quality assurance” after border wall easily breached

Harder than it looks.
Harder than it looks.
Image: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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Less than a week after reports emerged that new sections of US president Donald Trump’s signature border wall have been repeatedly breached by smugglers using inexpensive power tools, the federal government announced it is seeking teams of “quality assurance” personnel to oversee the next phase of construction.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, which is supervising the construction of the president’s long-promised border wall, will be awarding up to $300 million in contracts to monitor the quality of the wall’s construction along the southern border of the United States, according to a pre-solicitation released Nov. 5. The tasks include, among other things, “analysis of construction contractor claims,” identifying “potential construction issues,” and “material testing.”

A $100 cordless saw fitted with special blades can slice through the new wall’s concrete-filled steel bollards in minutes, according to US government sources cited by the Washington Post. And because Trump reportedly insisted the beams reach a height of 30 feet instead of the 15- to 18-feet recommended by immigration officials, they are easier to push aside to create an “adult-size gap.” The extra-long slats are affixed only to a panel at the top of the barrier, allowing them to dangle freely after being cut.

The Army Corps declined to provide further details, and would not say if the planned “material testing” would include attempts to saw through the barrier. A spokesperson referred Quartz to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for queries related “to the operational security aspects of the border barrier.” CBP, in turn, referred Quartz back to the Army Corps.

“If you think you’re going to cut it with a blowtorch, that doesn’t work because you hit concrete,” Trump said during a visit to the border in September. “And then if think you’re going to go through the concrete, that doesn’t work because we have very powerful rebar inside.” At the time, Trump called the wall the “Rolls-Royce version” of border barriers, insisting it was “virtually impenetrable” and “cannot be climbed.” However, in addition to being repeatedly breached by sawing through the bollards, smugglers have also used ladders to scale the wall in recent months.

When reporters informed Trump of the news, the president replied: “We have a very powerful wall. But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness…One of the reasons we did it the way we did it, it’s very easily fixed. You put the chunk back in.”

Trump has also dismissed the border fencing that existed under past administrations. “It was like a sheet metal and people would just knock it over like just routinely,” he said, also during his September border trip.

To date, Trump’s border wall has cost American taxpayers about $10 billion, $3.6 billion of which was diverted from US military budgets after a Supreme Court ruling last July allowed the move. During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly told supporters that Mexico would pay for the wall.

A section of Trump’s campaign website that detailed his plan
A section of Trump’s campaign website that detailed his plan

When that scheme fizzled, Trump claimed a revised trade deal with Mexico would finance the wall’s construction.

It didn’t. The USMCA pact, for one, has not yet taken effect. Additionally, trade between the US and Mexico is, and has been, tariff-free since 1994. What’s more, if any tariffs were to be imposed on Mexican goods, they would be paid by importers in the US and passed on, at least in part, to American consumers.

The Trump administration says it will construct at least 400 miles of border wall—and maybe up to 550 miles, Trump recently claimed—by the end of 2020. The Army Corps has spent at least $1.9 million on quality assurance services for the project since the end of 2018, according to federal spending data. Solicitations for the upcoming quality assurance work will be issued later this month.