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Garages with 27-foot ceilings: Government wastes millions building fancy houses for border officers

A new report says U.S. Customs and Border Protection has wasted millions of dollars building excessively large homes with luxury amenities in Arizona for border officials, despite a recommendation to build much less expensive apartment-style housing.

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General reported that CBP ended up spending an average of $680,000 per house for 21 family-style houses, in an area where the average home costs just $86,500.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.47.28 AM The report showed evidence of giant garages with 27-foot ceilings.
Photo credit: DHS Office of Inspector General

CBP also spent 20 mobile homes for $2.4 million, or about $120,000 per mobile home — still nearly 50 percent more than the average home in the area around Ajo, Arizona.

"This is a classic example of inadequate planning and management leading to wasteful spending," said Inspector General John Roth. "This project could have been completed at must less cost to the taxpayers."

According to the report, CBP spent too much money at every step of the process, starting with overpaying for the land. Then, instead of building apartment homes for CBP officials working on the border, it built two- and three-bedroom homes that were stocked with luxury upgrades.

"The houses have quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances in the kitchens, free-standing additional freezers, wireless ceiling fans, plantation shutters, and walk-in pantries," the report said.

It also built garages large enough to fit three cars, and with 27-foot ceilings.

"According to a CBP official, higher quality items were used because CBP believed if 'they spent more up front, they would save money in the end,' " the report added. "CBP was unable to provide cost comparisons or support how its decisions resulted in cost savings."

"In including these items and amenities in the housing project, CBP disregarded its study recommendations and spent funds unnecessarily," the report said.

The OIG identified $4.4 million in overspending, but said it couldn't quantify how much more was wasted by building housing units that were larger and fancier than necessary. But even if CBP just bought 21 average homes, it could have spent just $1.8 million for all of them, instead of the $14.3 million it spent building bigger homes.

The bigger homes are leading to a longer-term problem. The report said CBP is finding it hard to rent them all out because it is charging higher rental rates to reflect the size and various amenities in the homes.

One last thing…
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