A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Barrier contractor welds a panel for stabilization at the El Paso project site near Columbus, N.M., Oct. 29, 2019 in preparation for concrete placement. (Photo by Mark Rankin/Task Force Barrier)

GAO: Border Barrier Projects Show Army Corps of Engineers Should Review Contracting

The Government Accountability Office recommended that the Corps assess its contracting approaches and acquisition plans going forward after reviewing funds used to construct barriers on the southwest U.S. border.

Some Department of Defense funding was only available for a short time before expiring, giving the Corps a tight schedule for awarding contracts. This—and the emergency declaration—led the Corps to depart from its planned acquisition approach.

The Corps focused on starting construction quickly and maximizing the miles of border barrier panels it could build. To do so, it:

  • Awarded $4.3 billion in noncompetitive contracts. Competition helps ensure the government gets a good price.
  • Started work before agreeing to terms. The Corps awarded several contracts before terms, such as barrier specifications and cost, were finalized.

By focusing on expediency in contracting, the government risks paying higher costs.

Contractors completed most DOD-funded border barrier panels by the end of December 2020 as scheduled. A January 2021 Presidential Proclamation paused border barrier construction to the extent permitted by law, and called for a review. In March 2021, DOD officials said they gave input to the Office of Management and Budget, and OMB will present a plan to the President.

The Corps has not developed plans to examine its overall acquisition approach and identify lessons learned. Without doing so, the Corps could miss opportunities to strengthen its contracting strategies in future border support efforts.

The Corps should assess the approaches used to build the border barriers and, as appropriate, reassess its acquisition strategy going forward. The Corps concurred with GAO recommendation.

Read the GAO report

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