Will We Build The Wall or The Metaphor?

The U.S.-Mexican border between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

The U.S.-Mexican border between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

President Trump’s promise to build a border wall was major part of his campaign and it remains a priority with his core supporters. It is fair to say that the constituency that chanted “Build that Wall” at Trump rallies had a shared vision of a physical barrier being constructed along the US/Mexico border, a completion of the 600+ miles of existing wall initiated in 2006.

That is why the apparent capitulation on a demand for Congressional funding for the wall is so politically risky – and opens the question of whether the Wall was always a metaphor for a series of actions (to include barrier construction) taken to enhance border security. The latter may seem an imminently practical alternative but political crowds do not rise up to chant for metaphors.

When the President de-linked Wall funding from the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill, the legislation that will provide federal discretionary funding for the current fiscal year, he effectively isolated Wall funding which will now likely be an out-year budget item. The President, however remains publicly committed, telling The Associated Press, “That wall’s getting built, okay? One hundred percent.”

While the political and social media debate rages, the actual contracting process was initiated by executive order in January. Management of the contracting process for the wall was assigned to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On March 17, 2017 the CBP issued two RFPs to acquire multiple conceptual wall designs with the intent to construct and evaluate multiple prototypes.

According to the CBP press release issued pursuant to publication of the RFPs, prototyping is an industry-tested approach to identify the best solution when considering a new product or methodology. Through the construction of prototypes, CBP will partner with industry to identify the best means and methods to construct border wall before making a more substantial investment in construction.

The subject RFPs were issued for separate, though closely related, projects; a Solid Concrete Border Wall and an Other Border Wall that provided alternatives to a solid concrete structure. The April 4, 2017 proposal due date for each solicitation was established by amended RFP. There has been substantial interest in the project by the international construction community. Customs and Border Patrol reported that soliciting ideas from businesses resulted in the submission of more than 600 design concepts.

There is no word on the source selection that has, ostensibly, been going on since receipt of proposals on April 4. Revealing the winning prototypes should provide information on what the Wall would really look like if constructed.

While I would not bet on the next Great Wall of China or the Gaza strip barrier, there will likely be a substantial increase in border security funding for some combination of barrier and intrusion detection technology. And it will be called the Wall.

Jimm Rich
Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2016, Jimm served as Chief of Contracting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore, Kansas City and Galveston districts.

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