Millions of Dollars Set Aside for Border Wall Left Unspent

A report from the Government and Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used funds appropriated for the border wall for “environmental planning.”

The report investigated whether the Biden administration violated the Impoundment and Control Act of 1974 (ICA) by blocking funds meant for border wall construction.

While GAO did not find DHS violated the law, the report found that “DHS has continued to incur obligations against these appropriations at a rate consistent with the ICA.”

The investigation came at the request of House Budget Committee Chairman Jodey Arrington (R-TX) and Budget Committee Oversight Task Force Chair Jack Bergman (R-MI).

“Due to the duration of how long these congressionally appropriated funds have been withheld, the refusal of the Administration to respond to official requests from Congress for more information (per your recommendation), and the recent announcement by the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive various environmental laws to restart construction of approximately 20 miles of the border wall in Texas, we call into question the legality of the Biden Administration’s decision to withhold these funds,” the representatives wrote to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in November.

“The Administration’s stated policy is that ‘no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall,'” the report notes. “But the ICA does not forbid executive branch officials from having policy preferences. Rather, it does not permit the executive to withhold amounts because of those preferences.”

“Thus, the central issue in our analysis is not the Administration’s stance on the desirability of the construction of a border wall but, rather, is whether DHS has obligated appropriated amounts in a manner consistent with the ICA.”

According to GAO’s report, hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated for southern border wall construction have gone unspent.

In fiscal year 2020, $12 million in funds for the border wall were unobligated. Almost half of the appropriated funds were unobligated in fiscal year 2021.

“As of January 8, 2024, DHS had obligated about 47 percent of its $1.375 billion appropriation for barrier construction for fiscal year 2021, with about 48 percent of that appropriation remaining available for obligation,” GAO wrote. “DHS states it is taking steps to select barrier projects for funding per its amended Border Wall Plan, and it will continue to do so until these funds expire on September 30, 2025.”

DHS has “yet to obligate over $660 million,” according to a press release from the House Budget Committee.

“While the GAO report may show that the Biden Administration has not explicitly broken the law, it does show that DHS and the White House are circumventing the law to shirk executive responsibility and accountability,” it adds, noting that the lack of “enforcement and operation control” at the border is a “dereliction of duty.”

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