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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Border fence construction is big business, and any government contractor selected to take part in these billion-dollar contracts will likely come under scrutiny. U.S. presidents usually play no part in the contractor selection process, at least until recently. This is directing an unprecedented amount of attention towards North Dakota-based contractor Fisher Industries, and no small amount of controversy over President Trump’s aggressive push towards selecting the relatively small company to head the border fence construction effort.
According to the Washington Post, President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award border wall contracts to Fisher Industries, whose top executive is a GOP donor and a frequent guest on Fox News. The Post’s sources are four Trump administration officials.
The officials also indicated to the Post that in phone calls, White House meetings, and conversations aboard Air Force One over the last several months, Trump has also aggressively pushed the contractor to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The push has reportedly alarmed both military commanders and DHS officials.
Trump’s Concrete Border Wall Proposal
Fisher Industries has come under government scrutiny before. According to The Atlantic, the company is already suing the U.S. government after being rejected for any Army Corps contract for the border wall. Fisher was one of the companies that participated in a prototype exercise outside San Diego in 2017, but the company’s wall didn’t meet the specifications laid out by DHS.
During the presidential campaign, Trump pushed for a concrete border wall, which was later deemed too expensive and completely impractical. Fisher pushed for a concrete wall, but this latest prototype was late and over budget. Now, Fisher is promising the steel wall that Trump is currently advocating for, and says the company can build one cheaper and faster than any other contractor.
‘We Build The Wall’
Tommy Fisher, the CEO of Fisher Industries, has many major supporters in the GOP. He has strong support from North Dakota’s Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, who has spoken directly to President Trump about Fisher twice.
His company is currently building a small section of privately funded border fence for the organization ‘We Build the Wall’, which is backed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, Blackwater founder (and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince, and former vice chair of Trump’s voter fraud commission Kris Kobach. Fisher is a frequent guest on Fox News, and according to The Atlantic, he has used those appearances to pitch his company’s border fence construction plan.
The president’s aggressive push for selecting Fisher Industries may reflect a bigger interest in construction speed, as opposed to border barrier effectiveness. The U.S. government contracting process has historically been stymied by bureaucratic red tape, construction delays, and cost overruns — a process that nonetheless is designed to protect the U.S. government from accusations of favoritism.
It can take several months and even years to award a contract, and often the decision process is longer when bigger dollar figures are involved. Going through the traditional contractor selection process could delay the start of construction well into reelection season, and it’s likely that Trump wants to fulfill his campaign promise of more border fencing well before the 2020 election.
Other Border Wall Contractors Were Considered
Back in February 2019, when Trump had $1.375 billion to work with and a plan to build 55 miles of barriers in two Texas counties, potential contractors included companies with extensive previous experience in border fence construction. At the time, Galveston, Texas contractor SLSCO was building some of the current fence sections in the Rio Grande Valley. Montana-based Barnard Construction Company was also in the running, as well as Israel-based Elbit Systems and Magal Security Systems, according to MarketWatch. All these firms have a history of giving money mostly to Republican politicians.
It’s unclear why Trump is suddenly favoring Fisher Industries over these four companies, or others who have more extensive experience in border fence construction. However, there is a good chance that he has been swayed by Fisher Industries’ ability to erect a half-mile of bollard-style fencing through the ‘We Build the Wall’ initiative literally overnight in New Mexico. Tommy Fisher has also claimed that his company could build more than 200 miles of border barrier in less than a year, which lines up with the Trump administration’s goals and timeline.