TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The federal government wasted millions of dollars in building a housing project for Border Patrol agents in Arizona near the Mexican border, spending nearly $700,000 per house in a small town where the average home costs less than $90,000, a watchdog report found.
The analysis by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection overspent by about $4.6 million on new houses and mobile homes in the small town of Ajo southwest of Phoenix. The agency has spent about $17 million for land, 21 two- and three-bedroom houses and 20 mobile homes. Construction was completed in December 2012.
Customs and Border Protection paid about $680,000 per house and about $118,000 per mobile home, according to the report. The average home cost in Ajo is $86,500.
The agency realized there was a need for more housing around 2008, when the Border Patrol doubled in size. There are currently about 21,000 border agents, roughly 5,000 of whom are in Arizona. In fiscal year 2004, there were about 10,800 agents, with about 2,400 in Arizona.
Building in Ajo became a priority because of its proximity to two Border Patrol stations and because nearby towns lacked sufficient public services for agents and their families.
"CBP did not effectively plan and manage employee housing in Ajo, Arizona, and made decisions that resulted in additional costs to the federal government," the report states.
A statement from Customs and Border Protection says that while the agency agrees with recommendations made in the report, it disputes the way the inspector general calculated the cost of each house and mobile home, calling the method "comparing apples to oranges."
"CBP relies on the private housing market to provide housing for its employees, except in a few extreme locations such as Ajo," the agency said in a statement released by spokesman Jim Burns. "In Ajo, CBP built urgently needed housing for employees in accordance with the approved CBP design standards and the U.S. government guidance to be used by executive agencies concerning construction of federally owned housing for civilians."
He added the agency remains committed to providing quality, cost-effective housing to frontline border security personnel and their families.
The report says Customs and Border Protection did not "adequately justify" hiring the U.S. General Services Administration, a government agency, to manage the project, and that it overpaid the agency by about $3 million in unspent funds.
CBP also increased funding for the project seven times without providing reasons for the increases or explaining how the money was spent.
The government plans to build more houses in Lukeville, which is near Ajo.