STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump's administration has yet to start building its bigger wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Contractors have started getting in position to get some of the work. Hundreds of companies have expressed an interest in bidding on the first phase of construction. Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: Donald Trump has been moving quickly to fulfill campaign promises. The border wall is no exception. In his address to Congress last week, he said it's needed to restore the rule of law on the border and deter illegal immigration and illicit drug smuggling.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.
GONZALES: The countdown to construction is a rapid one. Starting today, the Department of Homeland Security will begin accepting proposals for how to design and build the border wall. By the end of this week, the prototype ideas will be due, and in another two weeks, the government will evaluate those proposals and require the finalists to submit their final designs and cost estimates. Contracts will be awarded by mid-April.
JOHN JONES: It's quick. Yeah, no, it's fast.
GONZALES: John Jones is a co-owner of Martinez Services, Inc., a small construction company based in San Rafael, Calif. He says he's done federal contracting since 1994. His company has worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Border Patrol on some gates and segments of the fence along nearly 700 miles of the 2,000 mile border. Jones says he's excited about the opportunity and the fast-paced timetable.
JONES: Which, for us, was something that was part of the challenge. That's why we got interested in it.
GONZALES: Jones' company is one of more than 400 firms that have told the agency they might bid on the work. They range in size from major corporations, like U.S. Concrete, Inc. and defense contractor General Dynamics, to smaller construction and engineering firms. Joseph Hornyak is a Virginia-based attorney who represents contractors who provide the government with services, supplies and construction crews. He says, with such a tight timetable, larger firms will likely have an edge.
JOSEPH HORNYAK: Large government contractors have more resources that are specifically dedicated to things like marketing, business development and proposal writing. So yes, a larger business, you know, would have an advantage, if there's a short turnaround time, over a smaller one.
GONZALES: Customs and Border Protection - part of the Homeland Security Department - said the timetable has been expedited to meet U.S. Border Patrol needs. The speed at which the administration is moving is reminiscent of the hasty way it brought out the ban on refugees and travelers from seven mostly-Muslim countries, says Steven Schooner. He teaches government procurement law at The George Washington University Law School. Schooner warned that moving too fast on a big infrastructure project can lead to mistakes.
STEVEN SCHOONER: I think that the short time frames are all about shoot first, aim later. It's just consistent with the general lots of arm-waving and almost hysterical chaos-type environment that we've seen early in this administration.
GONZALES: Cost estimates for the border wall vary widely. Trump has said it can be done for $12 billion. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated the cost at $21 million. And an MIT study put the cost at $38 billion. It's not clear when Congress will appropriate any money for the project. Richard Gonzales, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.