Fort Worth company’s protest delays border wall prototypes
CEO says rejection of his bid wasn’t fair, calls process rushed.
President Donald Trump is determined to build the border wall. Fort Worth construction company owner Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga wants to build it. But after he was rejected as a bidder, the Texan has thrown up his own barrier, filing a protest that has stopped, for now, the government’s rush to get wall prototypes built.
It’s the latest glitch in the halting effort to make good on the president’s signature campaign issue. And plans to build the wall in environmentally sensitive areas in the Rio Grande Valley have spurred activists to organize a rally Saturday in Mission, the first large-scale protest of the wall on the border.
Evangelista-Ysasaga finds himself in the curious position of having helped the wall opponents. He was already walking a tightrope, a Latino bidder for the wall with a Latino workforce who was outspoken of the need for a humane immigration pol-
icy. Now, with the wall project pushed back at least for a few months, he said he has drawn death threats and last week his office windows were smashed.
Evangelista-Ysasaga, chief executive officer of Penna Group LLC, got death threats earlier this year from wall opponents for having bid on the wall in the first place. “I’m getting death threats from the left and right,” he told the American-Statesman.
“We want a more humane solution,” he said of his public advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform. However, he embraces the wall as part of reform, and as an important business opportunity. “It’s the biggest project on the planet,” he said of the estimated $15 billion to $25 billion price tag.
Evangelista-Ysasaga, who has completed other government projects and gotten high marks for his company’s work, accuses the Homeland Security Department of culling bidders. “It’s just not fair,” he said. “The process was too rushed.”
The Texan protested U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s rejection of his bid which has delayed the selection of eight or nine prototype walls, scheduled to be built in San Diego this summer, until Oct. 4. The Government Accountability Office will rule by then if the Texan’s complaint about an unfair decision will hold. “They didn’t even read my bid,” he said. “They told me.”
At issue are amendments to the bid that Customs and Border Protection required the bidders to sign. There were seven amendments and Penna Group’s bid signed the seventh one, which he said incorporated the other six. “It’s a technicality,” said Evangelista-Ysasaga, a lawyer for 16 years before starting Penna Group LLC in 2007. “I never lost a case. I’m not going to lose this one.”
Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security Department, sought bids in April for two types of wall made of concrete and “other material.” In May, officials announced a second selection phase after receiving bids that numbered “in the low hundreds.” It’s not clear how Trump’s stated preference for a design that includes solar panels fits into the competition but Evangelista-Ysasaga dismisses the idea as “asinine” and not cost-effective.
Another bidder, Stephen Neusch, president of Austin-based Black Security Products LLC, said the Homeland Security Department is now looking for a large company that can take on the entire project, and he anticipates being a subcontractor. “We’re not a prime contractor,” said Neusch who said he still wants “to get a piece” of the border wall. “Once they get down to five or six contractors we would propose (being part of the project) as a specialty contractor.”
Neusch built about 30 percent of the 650 miles of existing border fence but says the current bidding process has been rushed. “It was too quickly pulled together,” he said.
Another bidder, World Network International Services Inc., also protested being rejected, but the Government Accountability Office didn’t allow its protest to move forward. The agency also rejected an appeal from World Network International Services, according to Ralph White, the agency’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law who oversees government contract bid protests. “Two companies argued they were wrongly excluded from the process before the process was finished,” he said.
The Senate must decide by the end of September whether to OK the $1.6 billion for the wall in the next fiscal year that has been requested by the administration and approved by the House.