The U.S. government awarded a $1.3 billion border wall contract – the largest such contract to date – to a North Dakota construction company owned by a “major” donor to Republicans. The move comes after the president personally touted the firm in meetings with military leaders and border officials, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The firm, Fisher Sand and Gravel (FSG), previously secured a $400 million border wall contract late last year. That agreement is currently being audited by the Defense Department’s inspector general (IG).
The audit began after lawmakers raised concerns about the White House improperly influencing the bidding process. The Arizona Daily Star, citing the IG’s public affairs office, said the audit is ongoing. Sean O’Donnell is serving as the acting IG of the Defense Department (DoD) after Glenn Fine’s recent ouster.
The border wall project will span a 42-mile stretch of treacherous terrain in southern Arizona which includes mountains and water crossings.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, President Donald Trump has directly inserted himself into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ typically restrained legal process for evaluating and awarding government contracts, lobbying on behalf of FSG and the firm’s CEO Tommy Fisher.
When Trump told advisers last month that he wanted the wall painted black to make it more intimidating and harder to climb in hot weather, he directed them to consult with Fisher, the Daily Star reported. However, engineers told the Washington Post that painting the wall black will increase long-term maintenance costs on the wall while only marginally adding to its ability to retain heat.
After FSG’s initial bid was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers’ several times last year, Fisher launched a PR campaign. He appeared on a slew of conservative cable news shows where he played to Trump’s impatience with the wall’s progress by repeatedly claiming that FSG could build more than 200 miles of new barrier on the southern border in less than a year.
FSG was awarded its first government contract in December despite Army officials telling the president on multiple occasions that Fisher’s bids for the contract did not meet the required standards; Corps of Engineers evaluations of FSG’s prototype concluded that the proposal was cheaper because it lacked both “quality” and “sophistication.”
In a statement to the Washington Post on Wednesday, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) derided the administration’s decision to award FSG with another contract before the inspector general releases its findings.
“It speaks volumes to the administration’s lack of transparency that they didn’t announce this award — the largest ever — and we continue to learn about contracts to companies without a proven track record from the media,” Thompson said. “Given the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing investigation into Fisher, the administration should pause construction and contracting decisions until the investigation has concluded favorably and it is safe to resume nonessential construction projects.”
FSG has also been cited for a litany of violations unrelated to the border wall project. The company was fined $150,000 after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that two female employees had been subjected to “egregious verbal sexual harassment” by their supervisor.
Tommy Fisher’s brother and FSG’s previous CEO, Michael Fisher, pleaded guilty in 2009 to tax fraud after admitting that he used company money to pay for personal expenses, such as renovations to his private residence and expensive vacation trips. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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