-- Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced Thursday that four vendors have been selected to design and build prototypes for the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, which remains a top priority of the Trump administration.
The four companies awarded contracts are: Caddell Construction Co., Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., Texas Sterling Construction Co. and W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Company.
Each of the selected companies has been tasked with building one wall prototype made of "reinforced concrete" along the border in San Diego. Next week, CBP will decide on up to four additional vendors that will be selected to build wall prototypes made of non-concrete materials.
In March, CBP issued two separate requests for proposals to begin evaluating technological innovations that are potentially available for the proposed project.
The prototypes will be designed to be 30 feet long and up to 30 feet high, and will be in close proximity to each other. Testing will examine aesthetics, as well as the breaching and scaling potential.
Once the prototypes are built, there will be a 30 to 60 days evaluation period.
"We're going to do this as quickly as possible," Vitiello said.
The next step will be for CBP officials to sit down with the selected companies and finalize a timeline to begin construction, which, according to Vitiello, should take "couple of weeks."
Once CBP issues a formal "notice to proceed," the selected companies will have 30 days to complete the project.
The prototype contracts range from just under $400,000 to nearly $500,000. Vitiello cautioned that the cost of the prototypes and extrapolate does not indicate the cost of the entire wall, and points out that the cost can fluctuate a great deal, depending on where it's built.
This process is not a competition for a winner to build the wall along the border, but rather a way for CBP to evaluate what the agency needs and what kinds of innovations from the industry can offered, a CBP official said.
The administration is using "reprogrammed" funds already designated for fiscal year 2017 spending for the prototypes. Any additional funding for the wall will need to be appropriated by Congress.
If the prototypes are beneficial to CBP in San Diego, the agency has a process for keeping them as part of the long-term wall.
Concrete material will potentially be used for the secondary wall, not the primary wall, according to CBP plans.
"This is the first new initiative that adds to our plans," said Vitiello.
In August, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, issued a waiver to certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements to "ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international border near San Diego."
The waiver allows CBP to disregard laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, along with many more.
However, CBP said that it will be committed to environmental and cultural stewardship.
"CBP has conducted biological, cultural, and natural resource surveys of the prototype area and has concluded that the currently planned prototype project will not result in significant environmental impacts," a CBP spokesperson said in a statement.
The administration said that construction on the prototypes will begin this summer, but the timeline was pushed back after multiple bid protests by companies that were rejected from working on the project, which are often a part of the government procurement process.
Additional companies could register additional official complaints, leading to further delays.
The San Diego sector was chosen as the prototype location because of access to the border land, the conditions that allow for CBP to evaluate the structures as part of the larger infrastructure system and the operational importance of the region.
President Trump made building the wall a cornerstone of his campaign, and has continued to promote it's importance since in office.
However, funding for the wall has become uncertain because of limited support on Capitol Hill and repeated denials from Mexico that it will pay for the wall.
In January, Trump signed a border security executive order, which directed DHS to take steps to "immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border."