DHS: President ‘not involved’ in wall selection process

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump may have a vision of what his border wall should look like, but he’s not involved in the process to make those decisions, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Despite Trump’s recent comments on how the wall will take shape, including references to it including solar panels and transparency, Customs and Border Protection is handling the process to choose prototypes to be built and have not briefed Trump on the options, the department said Tuesday.

“We have not involved the President in the procurement process,” DHS spokesman David Lapan said in a briefing with reporters.

Late last week, Trump told reporters that any border wall had to have “openings” so agents could see what’s on the other side, a point that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and border officials have made since the start of the administration. Trump has also suggested that a wall could have solar panels on it as a way to pay for it, something that was included in some of the pitches submitted by companies to Customs and Border Protection’s request for proposals.

But Lapan said those comments came independent of what the agency is doing.

“No briefings, no role in the procurement process, I’m not aware of the source of the information in which he’s referring to those things,” Lapan said. “We do know that a number of companies that have submitted proposals have talked about them publicly, so I don’t know if that’s some of the source.”

An administration official familiar with the White House’s efforts said that the President had been briefed on the overall progress and deployment of the wall, but said the administration follows “appropriate steps” to respect the process.

Trump made a vast border wall a centerpiece of his campaign and has claimed the administration is ahead of schedule in getting one built, but the administration has yet to break ground or even receive funds to authorize new wall construction.

Using $20 million that Congress allowed DHS to re-allocate from a different purpose, the department has solicited proposals and will build prototypes in San Diego. It has blown through an initial goal for starting construction on those in late June.

Lapan offered no updates on the status of that process on Tuesday, saying Customs and Border Protection is still reviewing detailed proposals submitted by the finalists that were narrowed from the initial field of proposals.

The hope is still to begin construction this summer, Lapan said.

Trump had initially spoke of a massive concrete wall and his recent comments signaled a shift in thinking. But Customs and Border Protection’s initial request for pitches had two tracks: a 30-foot concrete option, and other ideas.

Lapan said a concrete wall was still on the table, and DHS wasn’t planning to adjust its RFP.

“The professionals on the border obviously prefer something that they can see through in some manner, whether it’s, again, a bollard fence that you can see through directly, whether it’s cameras that allow you to see on to the other side, whether it’s any opening that allows you to see the other side but is not an opening that would allow people to come through or things that would come through,” Lapan said. “Remember the two RFPs, one is (the concrete) one and one is the other, so we’re looking at both.”

The administration is seeking $1.6 billion to build more than 70 miles of border wall in next year’s government funding after being rebuffed in this year’s budget.