U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents and agents-in-training listen to Vice President Mike Pence speak at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on March 13.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents and agents-in-training listen to Vice President Mike Pence speak at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on March 13. Andrew Harnik/AP

Trump Administration Cancels Contract That Failed to Bring on More Border Agents

CBP had hoped to bring on as many as 7,500 employees but instead received only 36.

The Trump administration on Thursday canceled a key contract it issued to fulfill an early promise by the president to add thousands of new border security personnel to the federal ranks amid concerns about the vendor’s ability to deliver new hires.

The announcement followed Customs and Border Protection issuing a partial stop work order on the contract last year, which itself followed reporting by Government Executive and a subsequent inspector general investigation that found Accenture Federal Services was not delivering new hires. The contract was worth up to $297 million for Accenture to hire up to 7,500 Border Patrol agents and other officers on CBP’s behalf. As of December, the company had only helped the agency bring on 36 employees.

According to a CBP spokesperson, the agency "determined it was best to terminate the contract for convenience on April 4, 2019. Termination for convenience is a technical description of ending a contract for reasons other than any failure on the part of the contractor. Rather, it indicates CBP concluded the contract is no longer the best and most cost-effective way to support agency needs." 

CBP awarded the contract after President Trump required the agency to hire 5,000 new Border Patrol agents through an executive order he signed 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 largely was paid on a per-hire basis, most of which was awarded when CBP sent an offer letter to a candidate, with the remaining amount paid when the employee actually started working.

Prior to the partial stop work order in December, CBP had obligated $43 million to the contract. That included $19 million in start-up costs and nearly $24 million for potential hires. The contract’s cancellation was first reported by Axios.

An Accenture spokesperson rejected the suggestion that the contract was a failure.

“The contract with CBP was designed to help the client develop a high-quality candidate pipeline by leveraging commercial best practices, using the latest technologies, and developing effective digital marketing and advertising campaigns,” the spokesperson said. “In accordance with the contract, Accenture began its work by delivering innovation that is now the foundation for a modern, state-of-the-art recruitment process already serving CBP, and will be a capability they can rely upon for years to come.”

John Goodman, Accenture Federal Services’ chief executive, mirrored those thoughts in congressional testimony last month. Goodman blamed the media and the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general for painting “an inaccurate and incomplete picture of [Accenture’s] performance under the contract.” He said his company helped develop a hiring platform and a marketing campaign CBP will continue to use.

CBP already maintains its own hiring portal, however, and has separate contracts for marketing and applicant processing with companies such as Ogilvy and Salesforce that remain in place. Goodman was questioned about Accenture’s failure to hire during his recent congressional testimony. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., characterized Accenture’s responses as “bureaucratic jargon.”

“What could you have possibly built for $19 million that is working so well that we couldn’t hire anybody?” Titus asked.

The cancellation also follows announcements by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan that the department will redeploy staff from throughout its ranks and across government to support Border Patrol personnel. It will pull at least 750 and as many as 2,000 customs officers from ports of entry to assist with processing, transportation and hospital watch. Nielsen recently told lawmakers that she is working with the Office of Management and Budget for an exact supplemental funding request, but it will include at least hundreds of employees and other “emergency resources and specific authorities.”

In 2018, the Border Patrol for the first time in several years added more employees than it lost, but that resulted in a net gain of just three agents at the Southwest border. Staffing at both Border Patrol and CBP’s customs officers remain far below their authorized levels. The Border Patrol has 7,000 fewer employees than its target, when accounting for Trump’s requested agent surplus.

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.

This article has been updated to include a statement from a CBP spokesperson.