Photo by Mani Albrecht for U.S. CBP

It took the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency nearly nine months from President Donald Trump's inauguration to solicit builders, shortlist design proposals, and construct prototypes of his promised borderwall along the U.S–Mexico border. Now, 10 months following the completion of the mock-ups, near San Diego, the congressional watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) has delivered to Congress a 45-page document reviewing the DHS's initiatives for the eight prototypes and the CBP's evaluation of these designs.

After initially providing prospective contractors with 13 requirements for the prototypes, the CBP assessed the resulting borderwall proposals using five key characteristics derived from those 13: breaching, anti-scaling, constructability, engineering design, and aesthetics. As reported by CBP, the Border Protection test team found that all four of the concrete-based prototypes would present "extensive construction challenges," particularly near sloping terrain. The team found that two of the "other materials" prototypes would present "substantial" challenges, while the other two would present "moderate" challenges in construction and engineering. Overall, at least four of the eight prototypes would require a redesign to be installed at slopes greater than 15 degrees; the CBP did not specify which four.

As for the aesthetic specifications, CBP had requested in its RFP that "the north side [U.S.-facing] of the barrier should be pleasing in color and texture to be consistent with the surrounding area." Border Patrol also reported to the GAO that it does not intend to use solid concrete on the bottom half of the primary barrier to ensure its agents have "a clear line of sight" to the border. The GAO report did identify three prototypes as the most attractive, but did not specify which ones. CBP also opted not to select one prototype design, but instead to record the best attributes from the prototypes to inform future borderwall designs.

According to its report, the GAO concluded that the DHS is proceeding "without key information." "DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border," the report's authors write. "However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected."

Regardless of these findings and recommendations, the future of the borderwall remains unclear until Congress decides on funding appropriation. As of July 29, the president threatened to shut down the government if a budget for the wall is not passed this fall.