Follow our investigation at AuditTheWall.org or on Twitter @WeAreOversight #AuditTheWall

Whether you support President Trump’s initiative to build a wall between the United States and Mexico or not, every dollar the government spends on the project belongs to American taxpayers. The American people have a right to know how their money is being spent, whether the procurement process treats all American businesses fairly, and how the government is addressing environmental, worker safety, and border property owner concerns.

American Oversight is holding the Trump administration accountable because Congress won’t – and we’re demanding answers about the wall. We will analyze the facts, break down the numbers, and report on our investigation here.

Questions We’re Investigating

There are a number of critical questions about the wall and the American people deserve answers. American Oversight is auditing the wall to get them:


How much is the wall going to cost and who is going to pay?

What We’re Seeking:

  • Records from within DHS regarding cost estimates for the wall, sources of funding, and budget requests.
  • Communications between the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress regarding wall funding as part of negotiations to avoid a government shutdown.

The Issue:

President Trump has gone from claiming that “Mexico will pay for the wall” to his current position that American taxpayers are going to have to foot the bill – at least initially. Reports vary widely on the cost of the wall. The White House suggests it will cost approximately $12 billion, a DHS report indicates it will cost over $20 billion, and a Congressional study has put the number at over $70 billion.

In mid-April, the White House began suggesting that it would shut down the government if Congress refused to include wall funds in a mandatory government spending bill. The president’s top budget negotiator, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, said that funding for a “physical southern wall” is a “top priority,” but other White House sources later tried to walk back from this position.

With American taxpayers potentially on the hook for a wall project that could cost anywhere between $12 and $70 billion – and with the administration changing its public position daily – it is essential to know how much the government expects this wall to cost and who they expect to pay for it.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security– Communications, talking points, reports, or analyses of the costs, budgeted funds, and availability of appropriations for the wall, as well as any communications with Congress about this issue. (DHS-17-0045)
  • April 25, 2017 – Office of Management and Budget – Communications with Congress regarding the inclusion of border funding or wall funding in any congressional resolutions or bills to extend government funding beyond April 28, 2017. (OMB-17-0112)

Is the government following the rules?

What We’re Seeking

  • The proposals submitted by contractors hoping to build the wall, as well as any correspondence with potential contractors.
  • Information about the timeline for constructing the wall, including any records of why the planning process has rushed.
  • Information about the legal authority to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Issue:

President Trump says he will be personally involved in the budget and design process for the wall – and even before he took office, there were news reports that Trump had contacted a real estate developer to ask him to build the wall. The federal procurement process has very specific rules to ensure that taxpayers get the best value for their money, and any large construction projects must go through a rigorous bidding process.

If the president is planning to interfere in the process and violate contracting rules, that raises serious red flags about the potential for favoritism or conflicts of interest.

There are also conflicting reports on the schedule for the wall’s construction. Government Executive described the process this way: “The extreme haste of the government’s procurement process is matched only by the breakneck speed with which the government plans to build the wall.” Prior border fencing efforts have taken years to construct short segments, and it is not clear what actual timetable the government plans for the wall.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security– Any contracts, requests for proposals, or solicitations regarding the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, including agreements to undertake preliminary assessments, analysis, or evaluation regarding the creation of such a barrier, including its feasibility, cost, or efficacy, or to construct a portion of such a barrier. (DHS-17-0041)
  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – All records concerning the schedule or schedules for the initiation, construction, and or completion of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border; communications with political appointees in DHS on this topic. (DHS-17-0040)
  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – All communications concerning the legislation that was ultimately enacted as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (Pub. L. 109–367) between DHS or its components and Congress, including congressional committees or staff. (DHS-17-0043)

What will be the environmental impact of a wall?

What We’re Seeking:

  • Records from DHS, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the environmental impact of the proposed border wall.

The Issue:

Building a physical, 30-foot-tall wall along the entire 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border would have an environmental impact on a scale unlike any infrastructure project in recent memory. The wall would bisect multiple wildlife refuges and national parks and potentially threaten a number of endangered and protected species.

And then there’s the question of the Rio Grande River, which makes up more than 1,200 miles of the border. While Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke observed that we aren’t going to build the wall down the middle of the river, constructing a physical wall in the Rio Grande basin could lead to flooding and other serious consequences for local ecosystems and the people living nearby.

Government agencies are required to conduct environmental impact assessments before moving forward with infrastructure projects – but it is not clear what, if any, environmental assessments the Trump administration has done or intends to do for the wall project.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – Any assessment or analysis regarding the environmental impact of the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border, or any portion thereof; any correspondence about whether the wall would require a single or multiple environmental impact assessments. (DHS-17-0044)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of the Interior – Any assessment or analysis regarding the environmental impact of the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border, or any portion thereof; any correspondence about whether the wall would require a single or multiple environmental impact assessments. (DOI-17-0059)
  • March 29, 2017 – Army Corps of Engineers – Any assessment or analysis regarding the environmental impact of the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend the full length of the U.S.-Mexico border, or any portion thereof; any correspondence about whether the wall would require a single or multiple environmental impact assessments. (DOD-17-0058)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of the Interior – All calendars or calendar entries for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke or anyone acting on his behalf, including any calendars maintained on behalf of these individuals, relating to the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. (DOI-17-0060)

How will a wall affect border communities, including Native American tribes and local property owners?

What We’re Seeking:

  • Records or analyses of plans to seize land from property owners through the use of eminent domain.
  • Communications between government agencies and the Tohono O’odham Nation regarding the border wall that would be built through their tribal lands.

The Issue:

Some stretches of the border are uninhabited – apart from wildlife – or are otherwise owned by the government. But a significant amount of the land along the border is owned by private individuals, and in one place, the border runs for 75-miles through the land of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Local residents along the border have started receiving Declarations of Taking from DHS – a preliminary step before the government could seize their land through eminent domain. The president has already requested increased funding for the Department of Justice to hire lawyers dedicated to land disputes.

At the same time, the Tohono O’odham Nation has made it very clear that it does not want a wall built through the middle of its territory which spans both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal law requires the government to consult with the tribe before making any changes to how the land is used.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – Any assessment or analysis regarding the eminent domain requirements for the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend along the U.S.-Mexico border; communications with landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border regarding potential or actual eminent domain actions. (DHS-17-0042)
  • March 29, 2017 – Army Corps of Engineers – Any assessment or analysis regarding the eminent domain requirements for the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend along the U.S.-Mexico border; communications with landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border regarding potential or actual eminent domain actions. (DOD-17-0057)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – Any assessment or analysis regarding the eminent domain requirements for the construction of a wall, fence, or other physical barrier that would extend along the U.S.-Mexico border; communications with landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border regarding potential or actual eminent domain actions; legal advice from the Office of Legal Counsel relating to eminent domain requirements. (DOJ-17-0056)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – All communications, correspondence, meeting notices, meeting agendas, informational materials, talking points, or other materials exchanged between or used in discussions with the Tohono O’odham Nation, including but not limited to any lobbyist, lawyer, or other representative contacting DHS on the tribe’s behalf, and DHS. (DHS-17-0054)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of Justice – All communications, correspondence, meeting notices, meeting agendas, informational materials, talking points, or other materials exchanged between or used in discussions with the Tohono O’odham Nation, including but not limited to any lobbyist, lawyer, or other representative contacting DOJ on the tribe’s behalf, and DOJ.  (DOJ-17-0053)
  • March 29, 2017 – Department of the Interior– All communications, correspondence, meeting notices, meeting agendas, informational materials, talking points, or other materials exchanged between or used in discussions with the Tohono O’odham Nation, including but not limited to any lobbyist, lawyer, or other representative contacting DOI on the tribe’s behalf, and DOI; communications exchanged between DOI and DHS regarding the Tohono O’odham Nation; analyses or other records regarding the issue of sovereign tribal land and the construction of a wall. (DOI-17-0052)

What impact would a border wall actually have on security?

What We’re Seeking:

  • Records of the failed SBInet border security program that was canceled in January 2011.

The Issue:

This is not the first time in recent history when the government has attempted a large scale border security initiative. In 2010, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano ordered a review of the “Secure Border Initiative-network” (SBInet), a $3 billion program “to build a virtual fence” on the border. After the review was complete, Secretary Napolitano cancelled the program in January 2011 “citing technical problems, cost overruns and schedule delays since its inception in 2005.”

It is not at all clear that a physical wall along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border – as President Trump has proposed – would significantly improve border security. Nor is it clear that a “virtual wall” using surveillance techniques and remote sensors would be any more effective now than it was in 2010. As DHS Secretary Kelly told a Senate committee in April, most drugs come into the country through the existing ports of entry rather than on the backs of smugglers walking across the desert.

FOIA Requests:

  • March 21, 2017 – Department of Homeland Security – All communications regarding the January 2010 decision to initiate a reassessment of the SBInet program or the January 2011 cancellation of the program; any memoranda or reports, and supporting material, prepared for the Trump administration or for former DHS Secretary Napolitano regarding the efficacy, performance, cost, or utility of the SBInet program; any records analyzing or reviewing the SBInet program in connection with any analysis or evaluation of the proposal to build a wall, fence, or other physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico. (DHS-17-0046)