SAN DIEGO – The Trump administration said Thursday that prototypes for a proposed border wall with Mexico have been delayed until November because two companies have objected to the bidding process, dealing another setback to the president's aggressive timetable to make good on a signature campaign pledge.
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The administration initially planned to begin construction in San Diego by June. Last month, officials said they did not expect to break ground until toward the end of summer.
On Thursday, the administration sent an email to members of Congress saying appeals by two companies identified as WNIS and Penna Group delayed construction to early November, with completion scheduled for early December.
The contents of the email were provided to The Associated Press by a U.S. official who had reviewed it. The official provided the information only on condition of anonymity because it has not been made public.
WNIS and Penna Group submitted bids to build wall prototypes but failed to make it to a second round of bidders selected in May, according to the email sent to members of Congress.
Losing bidders routinely protest decisions, and additional delays are possible. The Government Accountability Office has dismissed WNIS' protest but is still evaluating the protest lodged by Parra Group. Others may object once the winners are announced.
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U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the delay in a statement, saying construction could begin as soon as late October. It said the project was being held back by one vendor it did not identify.
"Such protests are common in federal contracting processes and no contracts may be awarded until the protests are resolved," the agency said. "By statute, GAO is required to issue a decision on a protest within 100 days of filing. CBP expects GAO's decision on these protests in early October 2017, which would delay construction to late October or early November, which is beyond our original summer 2017 timeline. CBP could resume contract consideration if the protest is resolved sooner."
Penna, based in Fort Worth, Texas, proposed a wall built of solid concrete in some sections and see-through steel mesh in others.
Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, Penna's chief executive officer, said in an interview that competent officials at Customs and Border Protection were under enormous pressure from the Trump White House to meet unrealistic deadlines and that they would be relieved to see the effort "hit the pause button.".
"This is a politically-driven project that doesn't have any substantive, detailed planning like any of the other federal projects I've worked on," he said. "They can't keep up. The project is way too complex for the type of time they've had to put it together."
Efforts to locate NWIS, the other losing bidder, were unsuccessful. That company's protest has already been dismissed, according to the email sent to members of Congress.
The prototypes — expected to be awarded to eight to 10 companies for $200,000 to $500,000 each — should be about 30 feet (9 meters) long and 18 to 30 feet (5.5 to 9 meters) high. The border protection agency has said it should be impossible for people to climb it on their own and that it should be impenetrable to sledgehammers and battery-operated tools trying to damage it for a full hour. It should also be aesthetically pleasing from the U.S. side.
Building a wall on the Mexican border was a cornerstone of Trump's presidential campaign and a flashpoint for his detractors.
The wall currently covers 654 miles (1,046 kilometers), or roughly one-third of the entire border from the Pacific Ocean to Gulf of Mexico. It's unclear when the wall will be extended under a Trump administration.
Trump's House Republican allies have been working to give the president long-sought victory in Congress by making a down payment on the wall. The House on Thursday approved $1.6 billion to start paying for the wall.
Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have pegged the total cost of a border wall as high as $70 billion. Homeland Security Secretary Kelly has estimated its price tag at $21 billion, while congressional Republicans have put the cost at $12 billion to $15 billion.
Evangelista-Ysasaga described the wall project as "epic."
"It's epic construction, and it should allow a whole lot more planning than the administration is allowing," he said.