Mar 7, 2017 by

Architecture + Design

The Department of Homeland Security is giving architects and engineers 14 days to submit design proposals. Is that normal?

In an unmistakable sign that President Trump has every intention of making good on his campaign promise to erect a massive wall along the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico, the government issued an official “presolicitation” for design proposals on February 24. Vendors have only until March 10 to submit their “concept paper” plans for the “design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.” The pool of final candidates is slated to be narrowed by March 20, and winners are expected to be announced “by mid-April.”

The presolicitation was posted on FedBizGov.gov, the Federal Business Opportunities website for government contractors, on the same day the president addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference, promising that the border project is already “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

“It would appear to be very unusual for the federal government to request design-and-build bids on a project of this scale—building a border wall—with such a short turnaround time,” says professor Kieran Donaghy of the Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP). “Perhaps the president’s speech to Congress pending this evening, at which remarks about wall construction are anticipated to be made, has occasioned this hasty pre-solicitation.”

Ron Witte, associate professor of architecture at the Rice School of Architecture, concurs about the RFP turnaround timetable. “It’s very short, certainly in the case of federal work; it’s not normal.” He adds that of the roughly 200 vendors that have already signed up as interested parties on the site, when he last checked on February 28, a vast majority appear to be contractors, engineers, and fabricators or builders, not architects and designers. “The people involved in building a wall are not the people who image the wall—the people who set up its technical terms, its financial necessities, and the mechanics of preventing movement across the border.”

That the winning vendors are expected to be named by this April is even more unusual, particularly given the breadth of work that is involved with a project of this kind. “When the federal government solicits bids for construction work, there are generally pro formas that must be complied with, justifications of designs and budgets, presentation of credentials, etcetera,” says Donaghy. “All of which are carefully gone over.”

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