by Joe Callen
The Trump administration stunned Democrat lawmakers and immigration advocacy groups Wednesday, announcing it will waive federal contracting laws to greatly speed up construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 377 miles of new wall to be built far more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin.
By one estimate, the time to complete this huge section of wall could be cut by 80% due to this unprecedented maneuver.
The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law — then passed with bipartisan support — that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers.
Since that time, of course, Democrats have changed their tune on a border wall. But it’s too late — the law is in place, and Trump is taking full advantage of it.
“We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that’s going along the Southwest border,” Wolf told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time that waivers have applied to federal procurement rules. Previously they were used to waive environmental impact reviews.
The Trump administration said it expects the waivers will allow 94 miles of wall to be built this year, bringing the Republican president closer to his pledge of about 450 miles since taking office — one of his, and many supporters’, top domestic priorities. It said the other 83 miles covered by the waivers may get built this year.
“Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement.
The move immediately sparked angry criticism from Democrats cauight off-guard.
Sen. Dick Durbin’s spokesperson also claimed that the Trump administration is “overstepping its authority,” but all legal challenges to stop Trump have utterly failed.
In 2018, a federal judge in San Diego rejected arguments by California and environmental advocacy groups that the secretary’s broad powers should have an expiration date. An appeals court upheld the ruling last year.
Congress gave the secretary power to waive laws in areas of high illegal crossings in 2005 in a package of emergency spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and minimum standards for state-issued identification cards. The Senate approved it unanimously, with support from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The House passed it with strong bipartisan support; then-Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against it.
The waivers, to be published in the Federal Register, apply to projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award in six of nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border: San Diego and El Centro in California; Yuma and Tucson in Arizona; El Paso, which spans New Mexico and west Texas, and Del Rio, Texas.
The administration said the waivers will apply to contractors that have already been vetted. In May, the Army Corps named 12 companies to compete for Pentagon-funded contracts.
The Army Corps is tasked with awarding $6.1 billion that the Department of Defense transferred for wall construction last year after Congress gave Trump only a fraction of the money. The administration has been able to spend that money during legal challenges.