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Port: Fisher Industries kerfuffle is a political Rorschach test

In a better sort of world, this audit would be a good-faith effort to ensure the proper expenditure of tax dollars. Unfortunately, the world we live in is twisted by partisan angst, and the motivations for these reviews (if not always their findings) are usually something less than pure.

042019.N.MDN.BORDERWALL
Sen. Kevin Cramer, right, is interviewed during a visit to Arizona on April 16, 2019, to observe Fisher Industries, a North Dakota company, show how it can build a wall on the southern border. In the background is a portion of wall the company demonstrated they can build. Courtesy photo / Office of Sen. Kevin Cramer
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MINOT, N.D. — Do the politicians in Washington, D.C., do anything besides investigate one another?

Someone accuses another of outrageous behavior and demands an investigation. Months, or years later, after a bevy of salacious (though often false) leaks to the press, the proceedings usually conclude with few concrete findings.

Whether that's the result of artful artifice by accused or the actual lack of wrongdoing usually depends on your politics.

It is through this lens that we must look at the impending audit of the bidding process around the border wall construction contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, awarded to Fisher Industries of Dickinson, N.D.

The review, requested of the Defense Department's internal auditors by Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, will look into "the possibility of inappropriate influence on USACE's contracting decision, and questioned whether the bid submitted by Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. met solicitation standards."

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For Democrats, this is an open-and-shut case of corruption. North Dakota Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven are both on the record advocating for Fisher. President Donald Trump, too, has championed the company.

CEO Tommy Fisher went on cable news to make his case, and he's spread around some political money too, notably to Cramer's 2018 Senate campaign.

What if that's just a partisan interpretation of prima facie evidence?

Cramer, for his part, has been critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for years now over issues like flood control. What some interpret as quid pro quo for a political contributor might, from another perspective, be seen as an example of the senator's consistently-expressed pique with the Corps.

As for Fisher, the knock on them, according to various media reports usually citing unnamed sources, is they aren't qualified. Their bid was too low, some say, and they won't do a good job.

What is the source of those whispers? Bureaucrats who don't want to build the wall? Fisher's competitors for the contract? Unlike the proponents of Fisher's bid, the opponents are mostly whispering from the shadows.

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I looked at the bids awarded for the border wall so far , and at least as measured by per-mile dollar amounts, Fisher's contract is in the middle of the pack.

As for the company's capacity to make good, I guess we'll find out.

Fisher has already built miles of the wall as a part of the privately-funded We Build The Wall effort near El Paso.

Border officials seem pleased.

"Everything changed for us, and we were able to manage the border enforcement actions there even better," Gloria Chavez, chief of the Border Patrol's El Paso Sector, said of the Fisher-built wall .

Those who have promoted Fisher's bid have done so right out in the open. Similarly, Fisher's campaign to get a contract has been in the public eye, as was their complaint about the Corp's bidding process , which resulted in Corps officials admitting earlier this year they had "improperly excluded" companies.

In a better sort of world, this audit would be a good-faith effort to ensure the proper expenditure of tax dollars. Unfortunately, the world we live in is twisted by partisan angst, and the motivations for these reviews (if not always their findings) are usually something less than pure.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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