- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Homeland Security’s inspector general warned Tuesday that the contract for providing medical care to migrants nabbed jumping the border will run out before the end of this month, and said there may not be enough time to get a new contract in place.

Customs and Border Protection fired back, calling the report “inaccurate and inflammatory” and insisting it will beat the deadline.

Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari issued the management alert, saying the current contract expires Sept. 29 and, as of Sept. 3, CBP hadn’t issued a solicitation. He said that was already nearly three months behind the schedule the agency laid out before.

And CBP already missed the deadline to trigger an automatic extension of the current contract, he said.

“A lapse in onsite medical services at CBP facilities could jeopardize the health and safety of migrants in CBP custody, who may already be at higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19,” Mr. Cuffari wrote. “Further, a gap in medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic and at the start of the 2020-2021 flu season presents a heightened public health risk for migrants in CBP custody, as well as CBP officers, agents, and staff.”

CBP, in a statement, said it will takes the recommendations “under serious consideration.”

“These migrants illegally entering our country (for whatever reason) are lucky for the health services that we provide them,” the agency said. “CBP helps everyone they encounter, from the injured, lost US citizen hiker (personally know about this) in rural west Texas to the wanted murderer illegal alien in Maine. We help people from corner to corner of this nation.”

The agency rushed to sign a medical services contract early last year after the death of two illegal immigrant children at the border in December 2019.

Investigations by the inspector general found CBP was not to blame, and in fact found agents even bought medication out of their own pocket for one of the children.

But Trump critics have nonetheless laid blame at CBP’s door. House Democrats held a hearing earlier this summer to criticize CBP’s response and demand more medical services at the border, arguing the country has an obligation to provide immediate care for those who jump the border.

Mr. Cuffari said even if CBP does award a new medical services contract before the current one runs out, it will be done without full competition, meaning the government may end up paying more than if the agency had acted sooner.

In its official response to the inspector general, CBP said the report was alarmist.

“CBP questions why OIG would issue this draft alert, which in addition to being incorrect is certain to cause unwarranted alarm and panic,” wrote Henry A. Moak Jr., a CBP official.

He said there are several contracting paths that could get a deal done in time.

“CBP is confident that an award will be made prior to the expiration of the current contract,” he said.

Mr. Cuffari said CBP had “repeatedly missed” its own deadlines, which left him less confident of those assurances.

For example, in July contracting officers promised a solicitation would be made within 24 hours. As of mid-August, when a draft of the alert was sent to CBP, it still hadn’t been issued.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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