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Fact Checker: Joni Ernst says U.S. spending $3M a day to guard border wall materials. Is that true?
Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley proposed bill to give steel to states so they can continue the wall, but that is already happening
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden halted construction of a new wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, ending the signature project of outgoing President Donald Trump.
During Trump’s presidency, 458 miles of “border wall system” were built, according to numbers provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to U.S. News. The steel barriers include sensors, lights, cameras and parallel roads in some places, U.S. News reported in February.
Six U.S. Senate Republicans, including Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now have proposed the BUILD IT Act, which would turn over unused border wall materials to southern states who want to continue building the wall.
As justification for the bill, Ernst tweeted May 24:
“American taxpayers are paying $3 million per day for contractors to guard unused Southern border wall materials.”
She added in a May 24 news release: “Let’s put the materials for the wall that American taxpayers are still paying for to use, and let’s build it!”
For sourcing on this claim, Ernst’s staff pointed to a July 21, 2021, report by Republicans on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management within the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
“The Biden Administration is paying contractors at least $3 million per day to guard steel, concrete, and other materials in the desert,” the report states. That number was down from $6 million per day “in total daily costs” after construction was ended at seven building sites, according to the report.
The Republicans on the subcommittee say they learned this information “through interviews and written communication with DOD (Department of Defense) officials.”
The Fact Checker wrote to the Defense Department to see what officials there had to say about the claim.
“When the DoD-funded border barrier program was initially suspended in January 2021, suspension cost impacts ranged from $3-4 million per day,” the press office wrote back in an email Wednesday. “These included cost impacts for the contracted workforce, equipment and materials.”
However, “these costs have declined over time as contractors complied with the subsequent termination for convenience direction. Contractors have returned equipment, terminated subcontractor arrangements and laid off staff.”
The Department of Defense, through the Army Corps of Engineers, now “is spending approximately $88k per day to cover contract costs related to the termination of border barrier construction,” the press office wrote.
“These funds are used primarily to secure construction sites. There are a total of 18 sites along the southwest border that have excess border barrier construction material. Ten of those sites are on Federal land with the remaining eight sites on private land. The temporary lease of the private land is included in the $88k per day.”
The Defense Department is disposing of border wall materials through the Defense Logistics Agency, just as it would with other surplus goods, the press office said.
The federal government already has turned over about $6 million in unused border wall materials to the state of Texas for its state-sponsored wall. Texas applied for and received 1,700 wall panels declared surplus, the Texas Tribune reported in February.
The Defense Department and the Texas Facilities Commission confirmed the 32-foot-tall steel panels had been shipped from San Diego to Texas to help build a wall on state land.
Texas applied for the materials through the federal government’s General Services Administration and, when the transfer was approved, paid $2 million to have the panels hauled to Eagle Pass, Texas, the Tribune reported. The Texas Tribune story noted Texas officials didn’t have to say how they planned to use the border wall materials if awarded.
Arizona’s state legislature also has said it plans to build a “physical border fence” on state land, Tucson.com reported in February.
Ernst relied on a year-old report when she said how much the federal government was paying to secure unused border wall materials.
The Defense Department confirmed that immediately after Biden ended border wall construction, the ongoing costs were from $3 to $4 million per day. This included winding down contracts and figuring out what to do with wall materials — not just guarding the goods.
However, it’s been nearly a year since that Republican report used the $3 million per day figure. If the Fact Checker could get an updated answer from the Defense Department in just a couple of days, Ernst could have done the same thing.
Don’t get us wrong, $88,000 per day is a lot of money. But it’s less than 3 percent of the outdated number Ernst used. And it will likely keep going down as border wall materials are offloaded.
Which gets back to the BUILD IT Act Ernst has proposed. She and other Republicans want Congress to allow the federal government to give unused steel panels and other materials to the states so they can continue to build a border wall.
Based on the $6 million in materials going to Texas through the federal surplus program, that’s already happening.
Grade: If Ernst had made this claim last summer, she’d get an A. But with updated information — which a U.S. senator could have easily gotten — the $3 million-per-day number is way off. We give her a D.
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