Fort Worth com­pany’s protest de­lays bor­der wall pro­to­types

CEO says re­jec­tion of his bid wasn’t fair, calls process rushed.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Maria Re­cio Amer­i­can-States­man spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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