Difficult to pin down the rising cost of unused edging materials
Republicans, including congressmen from Iowa, continue to criticize President Biden for his handling of the US-Mexico border. Representative Ashley Hinson went to the border as June began to draw attention to her opposition to Biden’s handling of border security. Senator Chuck Grassley said he, too, is fighting Biden’s border policies.
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, has been particularly active on border policies, writing in a May 28 bulletin, “Well, here’s something you might not know your tax money is for. is spent: unused boundary wall materials.”
This has been happening since Biden halted construction of President Trump’s wall on the US-Mexico border on Jan. 20, 2021, Ernst wrote. Grassley said he agrees with his assessment.
Ernst’s claim raises questions about responsible federal spending, so we’ve taken a look. The claim, which his office says is from a 2021 Senate Republican staff report criticizing spending on unused materials at the border, made the rounds in conservative media in conjunction with Ernst introducing the BUILD IT Act in May. This act would terminate contracts for the construction of the border wall and transfer unused fencing material to the state governments of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas on the southwestern border.
In total, Trump had planned to spend $16.5 billion on the border wall: $10 billion from misappropriated Department of Defense funds, $5.8 billion from an appropriation from Congress, and $600 million from dollars from forfeitures collected by the Treasury Department, a congressional research service from May 2021. report declared.
In the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration in 2021, Trump rise in power construction of the border wall by extending for a year the national emergency he declared in February 2019 to build the wall. Biden suspended all construction on his first day in office, leaving steel panels and pipes unused at construction sites along the border.
Some of the materials for the border wall are used elsewhere. In February 2022, more than 1,700 unused panels were donated by the federal government to Texas to help build Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s state-funded border wall. A Department of Defense spokesperson said the total value of all the donated panels was $6 million, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The Daily Star reported that federal agencies receiving documents include US Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But representatives of neither agency responded to questions about the amount of material received. The Department of the Interior also received nearly $1 million worth of bulk packaging and various building materials.
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security authorized in December 2021, using some of the remaining material to close breaches in a Texas levee along the Rio Grande River and to fill erosion in San Diego. The Biden administration said building the wall created these problems. A Department of Homeland Security Press release said other clean-up projects at construction sites have been approved, including repairing roads and installing drainage systems. Ernst wrote in his newsletter that the safekeeping of these materials costs “millions of dollars a day”.
His staff quoted for PolitiFact Iowa on Interim report on minorities issued July 2021 by the Government Operations and Border Management Sub-Committee. This Republican report indicates that at the time of its publication, the Department of Defense continued to spend $3 million a day “to protect steel, concrete and other materials in the desert”.
The estimated $3 million cost per day doesn’t been independently confirmed.
The Republican report said the cost was determined through communications with the Department of Defense and the Government Operations and Border Management Subcommittee. The Republicans’ 2021 congressional report does not indicate whether cleanup project costs are included in the $3 million daily figure.
Canceled contracts are still costing taxpayers as the Department of Defense must negotiate its withdrawal from seven remaining contracts, the Republican report said. The department’s estimates show the federal government could spend at least $798 million and $1.048 billion by the end of 2022 to exit contracts for the seven projects, the report said.
As of February 2021 US Government Accountability Office report said the Department of Defense spent about $1 billion to help at the border in fiscal years 2018 to 2020. But, according to the report, the department was slow to provide more specific costs for that period and was not tracking not internal costs.
Military personnel at the border can only support Homeland Security agents and cannot make arrests. Homeland Security officials wanted the military to stay in the region for three to five years, according to the 2021 report, but reliable cost estimates for doing so were unavailable.
About $5.3 billion of diverted Defense Department funding had been spent building walls, and about $4.75 billion remained committed when Biden took office, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in May 2021 report declared. Reports from June 2021 said Biden had returned the last batch of embezzled funds – over $2 billion – at the Ministry of Defence.
Heads of the Ministry of Defense valued it would cost the federal government about $1.4 billion to suspend and terminate the contracts, pending negotiations with contractors to cancel them, according to an internal memo.
We asked Ernst Senate staff whether or not the costs of these cleanup projects are factored into the $3 million daily costs. Staff replied in an email that these were projects “on which the Biden administration is currently spending taxpayers’ money following President Biden’s decision to roll back the border wall, which was already in construction”.
Ernst’s office also did not respond if the $3 million per day cost had changed since last July.
Ernst’s May 28 newsletter claims that unused materials stay on construction sites and taxpayers foot the bill to keep those materials. The amount of existing waste is a matter of judgment, but Ernst is correct in saying that approximately $265 million worth of manufacturing materials, including signs, electrical supplies and lampposts, were left behind at construction sites on along the southern border with Mexico after Biden halted construction of the border wall.
However, some of these materials are being used to patch gaps at unsecured points in the barrier, while others have been sent to other government agencies, including the state of Texas for wall construction. No independent source has confirmed the daily cost of $3 million Ernst cited, and a nonpartisan government agency says reliable cost estimates for the Department of Defense’s work on the border are lacking or behind schedule. News agencies are still waiting to know the real costs. We rate the claim as half true.
Editor/journalist Lyle Muller contributed to this story.