by Jim Nintzel
In the wake of a scandalous story earlier this week in the Arizona Republic, Congressman Ron Barber calls for an investigation into why the Department of Homeland Security paid a staggering $600,000 per home for housing for Border Patrol agents in Ajo.
The press release from Barber's office:
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber has asked the Department of Homeland Security to explain why it paid $15 million to build 21 houses and buy 20 mobile homes in Ajo for Border Patrol and Customs officers — in a community where comparable homes cost far less.
“This type of spending is irresponsible as our nation faces significant budget deficits and the men and women in the Border Patrol face cuts in overtime that are essential to their mission,” Barber said today. “I have demanded immediate answers from the Department of Homeland Security on how and why these outrageous expenses were approved.”
Barber, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, wrote to Thomas Winkowski, acting commissioner for U.S. Customers and Border Protection, asking him to explain why and how these decisions were made.
The Arizona Republic reported that DHS paid about $600,000 apiece to build 21 homes in Ajo where comparable homes sell for between $70,000 and $100,000. The Republic reported that DHS spent a total of $15 million for the 21 homes and 20 double-wide mobile homes — all meant to provide attractive housing to Border Patrol agents and Customs officers assigned to work in far western Pima County.
In his letter to Winkowski, Barber noted that, “It is important that our Border Patrol agents and Customs officers have safe and adequate housing. This ensures that those who protect our borders and facilitate the movement of goods and people into the United States can have stable and secure homes for their families.”
But Barber added, “It is imperative that we scrutinize expenditures and protect against wasteful spending. The federal government must be responsible stewards of taxpayer money.”
Barber asked Winkowski to report back promptly with answers on how many homes were built or purchased and the total price, the market value of the homes and justification for the purchases if the properties were purchased at above-market rates.
The letter from Barber's office:
August 15, 2013
The Honorable Thomas S. Winkowski
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20229
Dear Commissioner Winkowski:
I am deeply concerned by a report that U.S. Customs and Border Protection contracted for the construction of homes for Border Patrol agents and Customs officers in Ajo, Ariz. at prices almost five times above market value.
On Aug. 11, 2013, the Arizona Republic reported that the federal government spent more than $600,000 to plan and build 21 houses in Ajo. The federal government also reportedly purchased 20 trailers in Ajo. Both homes and trailer units are intended to be used to house CBP personnel at the agency’s Ajo Housing Complex. In total, the newspaper reported that the cost to taxpayers is approximately $15 million.
It is important that our Border Patrol agents and Customs officers have safe and adequate housing. This ensures that those who protect our borders and facilitate the movement of goods and people into the United States can have stable and secure homes for their families.
Given current federal budget constraints and the severe impact budget cuts have had on the ability to pay our Border Patrol agents’ overtime, which helps ensure agents can work full shifts that keep our borders secure, it is imperative that we scrutinize expenditures and protect against wasteful spending. The federal government must be responsible stewards of taxpayer money.
In light of these revelations, I request that CBP provide an explanation of what was purchased, the amount paid per unit and the justification of such expenditures.
As Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, it is my responsibility to ensure the department is operating efficiently and effectively. In this case, that means ensuring that U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
I request a thorough explanation of the following:
(1) Total number of houses and trailers at the Ajo Housing Complex to be purchased or constructed and the price;
(2) Market value of these homes and trailers and the amount actually paid for them;
(3) Justification for purchasing the houses and trailers if purchased at a price above market value.
I look forward to your prompt response.
Member of Congress