The Most Controversial RFP Ever? Bidding on the 'Trump Wall'
President Trump's Request for Proposal for the Mexico Border Wall isn't like most RFPs. It's high stakes, filled with controversy, and experts aren't sure it's even possible.
RFP lesson 1: is your request even possible?
- A 9-meter-high reinforced concrete barrier, extending 2 meters underground to prevent tunneling.
- A similar barrier made from durable, see-through material.
- The wall must be “cost-effective to build and repair”.
- The barrier must be “physically imposing” and capable of resisting almost any attack by “sledgehammer, car jack, pickaxe, chisel, battery-operated impact tools, battery-operated cutting tools [or] oxy/acetylene torch for a minimum of one hour.”
- At the same time, the wall must be “aesthetically pleasing”, reflecting Trump’s campaign promise of a 'beautiful wall'. Reports note that this requirement only applies to the North-facing side of the wall.
- Features to prevent anyone from scaling the barrier or attaching grappling hooks to its summit.
- Incorporation of electronically controlled gates for vehicles and pedestrians. [Emphasis added.]
The project is also complicated by the fact that the US Department of Homeland Security internal report predicted that the wall could cost as much as $21.6 billion and take over three years to build.
Not surprisingly, funding the building of the wall is proving to be difficult.
While Donald Trump famously promised his voters that 'Mexico will pay' for the border wall, the Mexican Government has repeatedly stated that it would not do so. The Trump administration is yet to reveal how it would compel Mexico to pay. The budget request for $2.6 billion to begin construction was seized upon last week by Graco Ramirez, the leader of Mexico’s national governors’ association, who claimed this proves that U.S. taxpayers will foot the entire bill.
The proposal is likely to face fierce opposition in Congress, where Democrats and fiscally-conservative Republicans are expected to block expenditure on this scale, particularly if estimates blow out to $21.6 billion.
Needless to say the cost is steep and the funding source remains murky.
Legal and safety concerns?
Because the proposed wall is s forcefully opposed, security is also a big concern. And not just for the wall or its guards, but also for those bidding to build it.
This article listed several concerns from worried bidders:
- One potential bidder asked if authorities would rush to help if workers came under “hostile attack” while another asked if employees can carry firearms and if the government would indemnify them for using deadly force.
- The winning bidders must submit a security plan with details including “fallback positions, evacuation routines and methods, muster area, medical staff members/availability, number of security personnel, qualifications, years of experience, etc. in the event of a hostile attack,” according to the solicitation. A chain-link fence with barbed wire around the construction site is required.
- A proposal from National Consulting Service based in National City south of San Diego would create a monorail line atop the wall and would use voice-recognition technology to analyze the emotional states of riders to help law enforcement spot trouble before it breaks out.
There could also be unexpected legal entanglements due to the location of the wall. Lengthening the existing border to add the rest of the proposed fence could actually seal off Americans on the Mexican side of the wall.
RFP lesson 2: are you painting providers into a corner?
The Trump Administration RFP is incredibly specific. And detailed questions and requirements are often a very good thing. Then providers understand exactly what you'e looking for, and it excludes the unqualified.
But too many detailed requirements can also paint vendors into a corner. You issue an RFP because you're looking for a solution to a problem. But often, the the best solutions look different from what we expected. We need to give vendors room to suggest solutions that are outside our box.
An alternative idea for a physical barrier put forward by a Florida architecture firm is to use shipping containers as the building blocks for the wall. This could be a cost-effective and sustainable solution, particularly as the U.S. has a surplus of shipping containers due to the slowdown in global commerce.
But beyond that, the bidders have a fair amount of latitude in how they design it. In fact DHS is actually not even committed to a wall. It also accepting bids for a border fence. The difference: A wall is completely solid, while a fence is a barrier that you can see through.
Trump himself has continually corrected people who referred to his plans as a fence.
"It's not a fence. It's a wall," Trump said at a January press conference before he took office. "We're going to build a wall."
RFP lesson 3: will your request actually solve your problem?
But while the planned barrier may play well with Mr Trump's base, it addresses a problem that has largely abated. Illegal immigration has been declining since 2007...
During the economic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, unauthorised immigrants, mainly from Mexico, flocked to America. The total number of undocumented immigrants rose from 3.5m in 1990 to a peak of 12.2m in 2007, but came to a halt after the financial crisis, according to The Pew Research Centre, a think-tank. Part of this decline has been a result of policy: the Obama administration made it a priority to stem the flow of immigrants, while also shielding long-term residents. But economic and demographic trends have also played a part.
Using a model that incorporates both demographic and economic factors, Mr Hansen and his colleagues predict that migration from Latin America will fall sharply over the next two decades, wall or no wall." [Emphasis added.]
If illegal immigration is declining naturally anyway it will be interesting to see how much a border wall does or does not impact those numbers.
RFP takeaway: make sure the solution you're asking for will actually solve your problem. Don't issue an RFP to issue an RFP.
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