President Trump gets updates on his proposed border wall, but his suggestions won’t affect the design, and he’s being kept in the dark about the prototypes being contemplated per federal contracting rules, a Homeland Security spokesman said Wednesday.
Mr. Trump has in the past suggested the wall should be fitted with solar panels and the energy sold to help pay for the costs, and also said a see-through wall was critical to giving Border Patrol agents a sense for what’s going on in Mexico.
None of that will influence the contract, though, said David Lapan, deputy assistant secretary at Homeland Security.
“The president, while he has been and continues to be briefed on the wall writ large — the progress, sort of how we are doing in fulfilling his order to secure the border — the prototype process is in the federal procurement process, and the president is not involved in that at all,” Mr. Lapan said.
The spokesman said the president is very interested in the project and regularly asks for updates from department officials, both on the wall and on progress toward securing the border, but details on the ongoing competition to select prototypes is compartmentalized.
“He’s not been briefed on any of the specifics,” Mr. Lapan said.
Mr. Lapan also said Mr. Trump’s plans to add 10,000 new deportation officers and 5,000 more Border Patrol agents to current staffing levels could change depending on how the hiring goes.
Then-candidate Trump had promised those numbers during the campaign as part of his vow for a deportation force to tackle illegal immigration.
But a Homeland Security inspector general’s report earlier this week said the department hasn’t been able to justify those numbers, and said given hiring hurdles, it require 750,000 applications to hire that number of border agents and 500,000 applicants to fill the positions at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the case of Border Patrol, Homeland Security said Mr. Trump’s executive order earlier this year reset the standard for operational control of the border.
“With the change in the standard, Border Patrol will have to grow and become more capable on the border. This includes additional boots on the ground, technology and infrastructure,” the department said.
The border has seen dramatic improvements in stemming the flow of unauthorized migrants in the six months since Mr. Trump took office, though drug seizures remain high.
The president has offered his wall as a solution to both problems.
Former Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly signed a waiver giving his department exemptions from 37 laws that could have hindered construction of the new wall prototypes. Among the waivers are some of the country’s most iconic environmental, religious and American Indian protection laws.
Democrats and environmentalists blasted the waivers.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the 2005 law that established the waivers was meant to short-circuit drawn-out legal battles, not to “rush” construction.
“Given the substantial impact these construction projects have on communities and the environment along the border, the department should not ignore its obligation to follow the law and commitment to due diligence,” Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Lapan said they still intend to follow the laws as best they can, but the waivers were meant to keep construction from getting bogged down in red tape and legal battles.
The current schedule calls for prototypes to be built in late October. Under the terms of funding, construction must be completed within 30 days.
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