President Trump’s “Border Wall” Cost Dispute Analysis

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order (see Appendix A) that calls for the construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border to prevent illegal immigration from Mexico.

The executive order includes the following action: “Produce a comprehensive study of the security of the southern border, to be completed within 180 days of this order, […] to obtain and maintain complete operational control of the southern border.”

During the election campaign, Trump quantified that the cost of the wall will hover at $8-12 billion. However, politicians and engineers challenged that figure as entirely unrealistic, not even covering the minimum predictable costs.

According to a paper published in MIT Technology Review, a 1,640 km steel-reinforced concrete wall should cost $40 billion. According to the wall expert Mr. Todd Sternfeld, the cost of the wall could exceed $26 billion. The Bernstein Research group has estimated that the cost the new wall could be between $15 and $25 billion.

During the election campaign, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell estimated that the border wall would cost $15 billion.

In 2009, the CRS (Congressional Research Service) concluded that the cost of ownership of a 1,610 km double-layer fencing ranges from $16.3 to $69.5 billion over a period of 25 years, depending on the wall-fence specifications.

Figure 1 – U.S.-Mexico Border Fences and Other Structures – January 2017

 

On February 9, 2017 Reuters (Ms. Julia E. Ainsley) published some details concerning a preliminary DHS internal document to be submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which prepare President Trump’s 2018 Federal Budget Request to congress. The document states that:

“President Donald Trump’s “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct. With 1,046 km of the border already fortified, the new construction would extend almost the length of the entire border. The plan lays out what it would take to seal the border in three phases of construction of fences and walls covering just over 2,000 km by the end of 2020”.

The purpose of this analysis is to make the public aware of the conflicting cost estimates, by using the expertise of Homeland Security Research Corp. (HSRC) engineers gained from past border wall-fence consulting projects.

  • A careful analysis of the Executive Order Section 3 Clause (e) definition of a “Wall” reveals that it allows the use of any “similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier,” which would cost about 10% of the value of a concrete wall.
  • The Executive Order wording allows the administration to limit the length of the new wall-barrier to 1,610 km. Furthermore, the order does not specify the electronic sensors and other security infrastructure to be installed along the new “wall.”

As the cost of the Wall “is in the details” (e.g., design specifications), HSRC engineers analyzed 4 wall-barrier design alternatives, ranging between:

  • A maximum-cost concrete wall with multilayered security, 3,145km-long and 40ft-high, from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, at a cost of $34.2 billion*.
  • A minimum cost “photo op wall”: a multilayered electronic security barrier, consisting of a 40km-long and 40ft-high concrete wall, as well as a 1,560km-long and 24ft-high fence, at a total cost of $6.2 billion.

Figure 2 – Cost of 4 Southern Borders [$M] – HSRC’s Design Alternatives

 

The full report can be downloaded at: http://homelandsecurityresearch.com/president-trumps-proposed-border-wall-cost-dispute-analysis