According to TripAdvisor, the Best Hotel in Texas has a rate of about $350 per night.
According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would have saved taxpayers a boat load of money by housing detained immigrants in the best hotel in the state instead of the temporary tent facility they set up in the El Paso region.
In anticipation of a potential surge at the southern border, the CBP entered into a $13 million per month contract “for building, operating, and maintaining a temporary, soft-sided facility in Tornillo, Texas with a capacity to hold 2,500 single adult detainees.”
Except 2,500 people did not show up. Not even close.
Over the length of the 7 month contract, the facility housed an average of 28 detainees per day. At the facility’s peak, it housed 61 detainees.
Unfortunately for the taxpayers, the CBP agreed to pay the contractor as if the facility was at full capacity – despite only being one percent full.
That means the CBP paid for 2,500 daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinner. In total, the CBP paid for 675,000 meals even though they only actually needed 13,428 of them. That translates into $5.3 million in pure waste.
The CBP also paid $6.7 million for 75 unarmed contract security guards, along with 121 Texas National Guard personnel, and 21 CBP law enforcement officers. For each detainee, GAO calculated that there were four national guardsmen, three security guards, and one CBP law enforcement officer.
While the CBP responded to the report citing that it’s easy to identify the waste with hindsight, they did not know that the facility would not be utilized at the time of the contract.
However, it would have only taken one small step to figure that out. GAO reported that the CBP headquarters officials responsible for entering into the contract did not consult with the staff in the El Paso region about the needs for the facility. If they had simply asked for the local input, they would have learned that the spacing issue was largely resolved by the time the CBP headquarters entered into this wildly wasteful contract.
The contract was also irresponsibly negotiated. Not only was it not put out for bid (meaning there was no chance for reduced price to the taxpayer through competition), the contract did not allow for tiered pricing based on how many people showed up. The CBP did not even consider tiered pricing – despite it being a common approach in federal contracting.
Nor did the CBP attempt to modify the contract to incorporate tiered pricing once it became clear that the facility was hardly being used. It took four months until a tiered approach was implemented when the CPB exercised its option to extend the contract for 2 additional months.
After 5 months, CBP ended the contract in January 2020 – wasting $66 million of taxpayer money on the barely used facilities. That’s a daily rate of more than $15,000 per detainee – qualifying for this list of the most expensive hotel rooms in the United States.
Maybe next time CBP will consider the penthouse suite. It would save the taxpayers some money.