Construction on prototypes of President Trump's promised border wall could begin in two weeks after the administration on Thursday announced the selection of four companies tapped to build them after months of delays in the bidding process.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the selection of the companies to build the concrete prototypes, which will take place in San Diego, is the first major step in fulfilling Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
"Today we mark a significant milestone," said Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "This is the first tangible result of the action planning that has gone on."
"We're going to do this as quickly as we can while maintaining all the requirements," he said. "We think it's in a couple of weeks to get started."
The four companies are: Caddell Construction in Montgomery, Ala.; Fisher Sand & Gravel/DBA Fisher Industries in Tempe, Ariz.; Texas Sterling Construction in Houston, Texas; and W.G. Yates & Sons Construction in Philadelphia, Miss. The companies were selected from more than 200 that submitted proposals.
The announcement came after the Government Accountability Office late last week dismissed a protest filed by two companies that were not selected that had delayed the process for at least two months. The Department of Homeland Security had initially set a June target for beginning the construction but that process dragged out over time.
The CBP plans to announce an additional four more companies selected to build prototypes using materials other than reinforced concrete that could provide see-through capability in the next week.
The companies will build one 30-foot high prototype each for a total of four to eight prototypes in all, spending between $400,000 to $500,000 on each of their prototypes.
The funds for the prototype project came from "resources we had available for the year," Vitiello said.
Congress has set aside $20 million from this year's annual budget for the prototypes. But Republican leaders are dragging their heels in providing any other money for the wall, a political clash between Trump and Senate Republicans set to intensify next week when lawmakers return from their August recess.
Lawmakers have to pass a spending measure to keep the government running past Sept. 30 and are also facing a deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Trump has threatened to shut down the government if the wall isn't funded in September but White House spokesmen have tried to downplay these threats.
While Vitiello was optimistic that construction could begin as early as mid-September, he conceded that once all the contracts are awarded, the companies would have another opportunity to protest, which could again delay the process for months.
Vitiello said the CBP is "confident in its processes" and would "proceed deliberately to ensure compliance with the law."
The companies were selected "based on their abilities to meet the requirements in the proposal," without further elaborating on reasons behind their winning prototypes, although he said their cost-effectiveness played a role.
Echoing some calls in Congress for a varied approach at the border, Vitiello stressed that the wall would be part of a "more holisitic" approach at the border that incudes cameras, sensors, and a 150-foot enforcement zone between the main wall and another smaller one at the immediate border with Mexico.
Vitiello brought with him a diagram of a proposed plan for the border wall that he said would include a smaller, likely "see-through" fence along the border, the 150-foot enforcement zone, and then the larger secondary likely concrete barrier armed with the cameras and sensors but "nothing lethal."