$400M Arizona border wall contract under review for potential impropriety
PHOENIX – The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General said Thursday it will review the validity of a $400 million Arizona border wall contract awarded to a company with a significant Phoenix-area presence.
The audit is in response to concerns raised by a Democratic congressman that the Trump administration may have inappropriately influenced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into awarding the contract to Fisher Sand and Gravel Co.
North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel is the parent company of Fisher Industries, which has a southern headquarters in Tempe.
In March, the company held a demonstration in Coolidge, Arizona, to show federal officials the technology it developed to construct barriers in 18-foot-tall segments.
“I think that President [Donald] Trump would be very impressed with what we have to offer,” company builder Ryan Fisher told KTAR News 92.3 FM at the time.
“With our patented form system, we’re significantly under time, significantly under budget, and — of course — all American made.”
The contract, awarded Dec. 2, is for 31 miles of wall along the southern perimeter of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Yuma County.
Tommy Fisher, head of the family business, is a GOP supporter and has appeared on conservative media touting his company as the best pick for building the wall that Trump has made a priority.
He had made a number of appearances on Trump’s favorite cable news channel — Fox News — talking about his desire to win a contract.
Two days after Fisher Sand and Gravel was awarded the contract, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), chairman of the House Homeland Committee, wrote a letter to the Inspector General’s Office, the Defense Department’s internal watchdog, requesting a review of the choice.
Thompson’s letter noted that the company had been rejected on a previous contract bid because “its proposals reportedly did not meet the operation requirements of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its prototype project came in late and over budget.”
The letter also cited reports that Trump and other White House officials have repeatedly urged Army Corps of Engineers to award construction projects to Fisher.
Principal Deputy Inspector General Glenn Fine replied to Thompson on Thursday, writing that his his office would conduct an audit as to whether the contract was improperly awarded.
Thompson said he appreciated the response.
“Given the president’s multiple endorsements of this company and the amount of taxpayer money at stake, I remain concerned about the possibility of inappropriate influence on the Army Corps’ contracting decision,” he said in a statement.
The award was the second-largest contract in the company’s history. Previously, Fisher built highways, sold heavy equipment and did excavation work. The company unsuccessfully sued the government in April when it was not awarded a similar contract.
Tommy Fisher said Thursday there would be “nothing to find” in an audit.
“We were told we were the lowest price and the best value,” he said. “We look forward to working with the Army Corps of Engineers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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