The Administration Signed a Contract to Bring on 7,500 Border Personnel. It's Hired Just 15.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks through concertina wire during a tour of the San Ysidro port of entry on Nov. 16, 2018, in San Diego. A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks through concertina wire during a tour of the San Ysidro port of entry on Nov. 16, 2018, in San Diego. Gregory Bull/AP

A consultant hired by the Trump administration to boost the number of border agents and customs officers has brought on just 15 of the 7,500 called for in its $300 million contract, according to figures provided by the agency.

Customs and Border Protection has so far obligated $43 million on the contract with Accenture, which is worth up to $297 million over five years. The agency invested $23.5 million in Accenture hires and an additional $19.1 million for start-up costs. The company has so far produced just 15 employees who have actually started working for CBP. Another 33 have accepted job offers.

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CBP issued the contract to help fulfill President Trump’s mandate that the agency hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents, which he issued through executive order shortly after taking office. Accenture was tasked with onboarding those 5,000, plus an additional 2,000 customs officers and 500 air and marine officers. Accenture gets paid on a per-hire basis, most of which comes when CBP sends an offer letter to a candidate and the remaining amount when the employee actually starts working.

The $43 million already obligated was slated for Accenture to help CBP bring on 600 employees. CBP is still confident the spending will bear fruit, with a spokesperson saying Accenture has 3,700 additional candidates in the hiring process. The contractor expects a “gradual increase of candidates to successfully exit the process in the coming months,” the spokesperson said.

Asked if CBP is happy with the progress Accenture is making, the spokesperson said the agency is documenting the contractor’s performance, but added Accenture is showing some progress.

“The Accenture contract reached full operating capacity on July 1, 2018,” the spokesperson said. “In the five months since that point, CBP has seen a steady increase in Accenture applicants entering the hiring pipeline, and a small amount are beginning to successfully enter the CBP workforce.”

CBP has long struggled with hiring and retaining employees. In fiscal 2017, Border Patrol hired just 1.36 percent of applicants were given jobs at the agency—a rate that has increased threefold since fiscal 2015. Hiring ticked up in fiscal 2018, but the agency still saw a net loss of 76 agents in the first half of the year. It has sped up the hiring process through a series of reforms to the polygraph process, physical testing and new authorities from the Office of Personnel Management, but it still took 274 days to bring on a new agent in fiscal 2017. More than three out of four applicants still fail their polygraph, and Border Patrol currently employs 7,000 fewer agents than the figure Trump mandated.

CBP still has yet to fill 2,000 customs officer jobs Congress authorized in 2014.

The agency has already adjusted its Accenture contract four times to give CBP more responsibility and lower Accenture’s pay rate, improve a platform used to manage recruiting and other modifications. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, previously raised concerns about the structure of the contract.

An individual supporting CBP on a separate contract said it is "widely known" within CBP's human resources management office that Accenture "has not lived up [to] the expectations of the contract over the last year." 

"This really has been a huge waste of money since Accenture received a large up-front amount, regardless of if they hired anyone," the individual said, calling the deal "flawed from the beginning" because it created duplicative work CBP was already doing. 

A spokeswoman for Accenture declined to comment, referring all questions to CBP.

Trump has also called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire 10,000 new deportation officers, tripling its current numbers. ICE solicited a similar contract for help in bringing on 26,000 new employees, but subsequently canceled it due to delays in receiving adequate funding. The administration said it would re-solicit the contract in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, but has yet to do so.

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