Sunday, March 15, 2009

How much concentration camp can you build with $385 million?

A germane question, since the FEMA concentration camp story that spreads virally across the internet almost always returns to this story from January 2006:

KBR announced today that the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement division has awarded KBR a $385 million five-year contract to support ICE facilities in the event of an emergency.

KBR is the engineering and construction subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton Co. (NYSE:HAL).

KBR also held the previous ICE contract from 2000 through 2005.

The contract will be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District.

The contract provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the United States, or to support the rapid development of new programs.

The contingency support contract provides for planning and, if required, initiation of specific engineering, construction and logistics support tasks to establish, operate and maintain one or more expansion facilities.

KBR may also provide migrant detention support to other U.S. government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster.

In the event of a natural disaster, KBR could be responsible for providing housing for ICE personnel performing law enforcement functions in support of relief efforts.

Granted, since October 2008 the once massive figure of $385 million sounds more like a rounding error than a budget--it's only a bit more than 60% of Delaware's current budget shortfall--but, still, one should be able to get a lot of camp for those kinds of bucks over a five-year period, right?

Turns out, no, not so much.

Let's make a comparison with prison costs.

In the same year, 2006, South Carolina reported the following expenditure:

192 -bed minimum security housing unit (existing institution)- $6.7 million ($34,896 per bed)

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has also conducted a study of private versus public prison construction, which concludes (in part):

On October 1, 1985 the Corrections Corporation of America acquired operation of Bay County, Florida's, main jail at a negotiated daily rate of $24 per prisoner. (Recall from above that Michigan sheriffs' daily state-wide average per-inmate operating costs ranged from $28 per bed to $38 per bed, depending on whether the MSA or the DMB report was the more accurate.) The Bay County Sheriff had requested the County to appropriate 837 per day for operation of the jail. At the time the County was facing numerous lawsuits from inmates and the State Department of Corrections due to overcrowding. CCA immediately remodeled the old 196-bed downtown jail complex at a cost of $700,000 to bring it into State compliance. (That's $3,571 per bed. The reader is asked to remember that the Michigan Sheriffs Association, based on data supplied by the state's county sheriffs and noted above, indicates that 70% of the state's 7,263 beds in place at the time of its 1984 survey were out of compliance with State Corrections Department standards and that it would take in excess of $26.5 million to bring them into compliance. That's more than $5,000 per bed.)

Following remodeling of the old jail, CCA designed and built an expandable 175-bed work-camp facility for $4.3 million. {That's $24,571 per bed for a new – from the ground up – facility. Recall that the Department of Justice study noted above found that when traditional government-built facilities finally came on line, the cost was near $58,000 per bed or more). A further provision of the County's contract with CCA required the company to secure $15 million of liability insurance. CCA retained all former jail employees and hired additional staff . Employee salaries were raised; the new work-camp was air conditioned; a full-time medical staff was added, giving the facility something it had never had before: and, again for the first time, all prisoners were issued pillows.

Do prisons equate with concentration camps? Well, yes and no. We can fairly assume that both in terms of permanence and code requirements that permanent prison facilities require more cost investment than temporary camps. On the other hand, prisons are generally built in places that already have certain accoutrements of infrastructure available--water lines, connecting roads, etc. Most of the stories emanating about the FEMA detention camps suggest that they have been placed in isolated areas. Moreover, there is an issue of scale. Construction costs increase with the larger number of facilities you build: simply put, building one 40,000-bed detention center is generally cheaper than two 20,000-bed centers, all things considered.

So what have we got here, for a ball-park figure?

Our figures suggest that new construction costs for prisons run from about $24.5 K to $58 K per bed, depending on who is doing the work. Let's take the lowest figure, then, $24.5 K, and let's cut it in half. My assumption here is that (a) FEMA wouldn't be squeamish about barebones construction; or (b) about stuffing twice as many people into the same space.

So at $12.25 K per bed, we get a camp capacity of 31,428 detainees.

Let's turn the plywood into pasteboard, the beds into cots, and the water pipes into old toilet-paper rolls, cutting that cost again by four: let's allow KBR only $3K per bed to build each camp. That would raise the potential detainee population to somewhere in the neighborhood of 121,000 people--and, frankly, it's pretty much of a stretch.

Those cots and wood floors may not cost very much, but you can't really economize that much on guard towers and barbed wire, or the cost of clearing land or grading roads.

In other words, what we've got here with the KBR contract is some more Bush-era privateering and government waste, because the budget would barely allow KBR to do the original job described in the legislation, much less erect an empire of Himmler-style concentration camps across the Reich. The Homeland, I mean.

This does NOT mean I am dismissing the existence of vast government lists of suspicious people.

This does NOT mean I am dismissing the various pieces of potentially totalitarian-enabling legislation having been passed with both Democrat and Republican votes over the past two decades.

What it DOES mean is that government critics need to start doing homework and providing evidence other than by circulating the same viral factoids and confusing the ability to pose questions with the ability to present evidence.

You want to criticize government strong-arm police-state tactics? Fine by me. But try to do it with real stuff.


Kn@ppster said...


Interesting take. I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here for a moment, though.

According to the MIAC report that you've done several posts on, them there "militia extremists" have identified three FEMA concentration camp sites in Missouri:

- Richards-Gebauer Air Force Base.
- Fort Leonard Wood.
- Camp Crowder.

As it happens, I've visited all three of these bases.

Richards-Gebauer was decommissioned some years ago, and a number of things -- including my Marine Corps reserve regiment's HQ -- were subsequently installed there. It's not rural -- it's barely suburban to Kansas City.

Fort Leonard Wood is the largest military base in the US.

Camp Crowder is sort of a backwater, but it's convenient to Interstate Highway 44 and I'm pretty sure the railroad either cuts through it or has a spur to it.

Probably very little transportation infrastructure involved to any of these places.

To at least two of them (Richards-Gebauer and Wood), probably minimal construction, plumbing, etc. requirements. There are all kinds of old barracks complexes going back at least as far as WWII, many of which are no longer in use because they're old and ratty ... but just because they won't put soldiers up in them, that doesn't mean they wouldn't surround them with some cheap barbed wire and stick prisoners in them.

I've personally seen at least one concentration camp maintained by the US military. It was located at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and it was used for housing Cuban boatlift refugees and Vietnamese boat people during those mass migrations. There are probably already existing facilities like it elsewhere.

So, the $385 million could just be for basic repairs/upgrades/moving in costs.

For that matter, the $385 million could be "startup money" with it assumed that the rest will be appropriated when and if the plan is implemented.

Not that I necessarily believe any of that. Just saying that while your budget analysis is correct as far as it goes, it may not accurately capture the whole picture (if there is one to capture).

Tom Knapp

pandora said...

Looks like the story may go back before 2006... to an X-Files plot. :-)

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