Can Contracting Laws Be Waived To Speed Up Border Wall Construction?

If the Trump administration has shown us anything, it’s that the public good isn’t as important as simply getting what it wants to get done, well…done. Government contracting laws exist for a number of reasons. First and foremost among them is getting the best price for the best work. That’s why those contracts are usually awarded after a series of auctions. After those auctions are completed, the losers have the opportunity to protest the winners.

But not anymore. Not as far as building the border wall goes, anyway.

The Department of Homeland Security recently unveiled plans to nix approximately ten laws to speed up construction of the border wall. The Trump administration has been sued on a great number of issues — and heck, it could very well be sued for this one as well — but it’s probably clear sailing from here on out. Environmental lawsuits will certainly continue, but it seems that there’s nothing that can be done about the waiving contracting laws.

One of those ten laws will remove the clause allowing losing bidders another opportunity in the form of protest. Another waives competition clauses that help lower the prices. Homeland says that removing the laws will aid in the speedy construction of about 177 miles of wall in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. 

This is important to the Trump administration because it was one of the core tenets of his campaign. If he can say it got done by Election Day, his prospects for reelection are even better than they are now.

Chad Wolf, Homeland Security Secretary, says, “We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that’s going along the southwest border.”

Is there precedent for waiving these laws? Sort of, but not really. Laws have historically been waived as a means to sidestep environmental impact reviews that are normally necessary when at risk wildlife habitats might be built over (hint: that’s why there are so many environmental lawsuits regarding the border wall right now). But before now, there haven’t really been any regulations waived for federal procurement purposes.

A spokesperson added, “Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall faster than ever before.”

But savvy business leaders are worried about where taxpayer money is being spent, as are legal experts. University of Baltimore School of Law’s Professor Charles Tiefer said, “The sky’s the limit on what they bill.” 

He was referring to the contractors.

Scott Amey, general counselor for the Project on Government Oversight, says waiving contract regulations is “equivalent to buying a car without seeing a sticker price. This could be a recipe for shoddy work and paying a much higher price than they should.”