Homeland Security waives contracting laws for border wall

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FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2019 file photo, the first panels of levee border wall are seen at a construction site along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Donna, Texas. The Trump administration said Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, that it will waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of the border wall with Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The Trump administration said Tuesday that it is waiving federal contracting laws to speed construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, moving the president closer to fulfilling a signature campaign promise in an election year but sparking criticism about potential for fraud, waste and abuse.

The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include a requirement for open competition and giving losing bidders a chance to protest decisions.

The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers.

“We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that's going along the southwest border,” Wolf told Fox News Channel's “Fox & Friends.”

Secretaries under President Donald Trump have issued 16 waivers, and President George W. Bush issued five, but Tuesday's announcement marks the first time that waivers have applied to federal procurement rules. Previously they were used to waive environmental impact reviews.

The Trump administration said the waivers will allow at least 94 miles (150 kilometers) of wall to be built this year, bringing the Republican leader closer to his goal of about 450 miles (720 kilometers) since he took office and made it one of his top domestic priorities. It said the other 83 miles (133 kilometers) covered by the waivers may get built this year.

“Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement.

Critics say the waivers do away with key taxpayer safeguards. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said the president's “cronies are likely to be the beneficiaries."