Trump will request more than $4 billion in defense spending to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first federal dollars that would be allocated for one of his most divisive campaign promises.
The initial money will be part of a $30 billion supplemental request for defense spending this year. Customs and Border Patrol has already begun soliciting ideas from businesses, with more than 600 submitting design concepts. The agency is expected to release two formal requests for proposals soon, one focusing on a concrete wall and another for other types of barriers.
A CNBC analysis of the companies that have expressed preliminary interest in the project shows most of them are based in California and Texas — more than 100 vendors each — according to a government database. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, did not have any businesses apply as of early this week.
Many of the businesses appear to be small or mid-sized firms, offering services from consulting to construction, lighting to video surveillance. At least 133 companies were listed as owned by minorities — including 39 by Hispanics. About 127 were run by women, while about 80 are veteran-owned. Those designations could qualify them for special consideration for government contracts.
The database does not include details of any proposals the companies may have submitted. In addition, many companies did not provide any demographic information. For those that did, CNBC’s analysis allowed companies to be counted in more than one category. For example, a business headed by a female veteran would be counted as woman-owned and veteran-owned.
Notably absent from the government’s list of interested vendors were some of the country’s biggest infrastructure and construction companies, such as Bechtel and United Technologies. One long-time government contractor, Caddell Construction, did submit paperwork. Some of the publicly traded firms that expressed interest include U.S. Concrete, KBR, Martin Marietta and Fluor.
More than a dozen companies that submitted inquiries are located outside the United States, including the one from Mexico.
Ted Atalla runs a small business selling LED lights called EcoVelocity based in Puebla, Mexico, about an hour and a half outside of the country’s capital. He said he was born in Egypt and immigrated to the United States as a child. After many years in California as an American citizen, he moved to Mexico about five years ago and counts himself among Trump’s supporters.
“I’ve been defending what we’ve been doing over there,” he told CNBC. “I think it’s a good thing.”
But Atalla said he doesn’t expect to win any work on the wall: His LED lights are made in China, and that’s unlikely to go over well with the administration’s mantra of buying and hiring American.
“I’m just watching [the contract] to see if I can offer anything to anybody when it comes,” he said.
Customs and Border Patrol has extended the deadline for initial applications several times, saying “industry interest has been high.” In its request for information, the agency described plans to build a concrete wall about 30 feet high that can prevent climbing and withstand tampering or damage.
“The intent of this procurement is to acquire and evaluate available wall prototypes and provide some initial construction of some wall segments, but is not intended as the vehicle for the procurement of the total wall solution for the border with Mexico,” the contract listing from Customs and Border Patrol states.
Kenneth Madsen, an Ohio State geography professor, said the agency now appears open to both a concrete wall that would block pedestrians as well as other barriers — such as a fence that might only stop vehicles. And he pointed out that in Arizona, at least, physical barriers are already in place along nearly all passable portions of the state’s border with Mexico.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mexico will pay for the wall, though the nation’s leaders have adamantly rejected that proposal. In Washington, Democrats have already vowed to reject any spending bill that includes money for the wall.
“If Republicans insist on inserting poison pill riders … they will be shutting down the government and delivering a severe blow to our economy,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the administration is asking for $1.5 billion this fiscal year and $2.6 billion in fiscal 2018. Mulvaney said the funds would be used to create pilot projects that test different types of barriers in several locations along the Mexican border.
“This is a hard-power budget. That was done intentionally,” Mulvaney told reporters during a background call Wednesday. “The president wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries.”
-Ylan Mui & John W. Schoen