- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2021

House Republicans are questioning the Homeland Security Department’s decision to award a hefty no-bid contract to care for illegal immigrant children to Family Endeavors, a company that Republican lawmakers said has never handled a work order this big.

The contract, worth up to $529.5 million, is more than 12 times Family Endeavors’ total budget and was signed just months after the company hired a member of the Biden transition team as its senior director of federal affairs, said Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

“President Biden’s open borders policies created the crisis at our southern border, and now his administration appears to be exploiting it by funneling a massive no-bid contract to a nonprofit linked to their transition team,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the oversight committee. “President Biden and Vice President Harris haven’t spent a second at the border, but they are spending hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to reward political allies.”

Rep. John Katko of New York, the ranking Republican on the homeland security panel, said awarding the contract to Endeavors was a bungle that undercuts confidence in the Biden administration’s ability to fix the border situation.

He said Endeavors doesn’t have a record of working with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the government agencies involved in handling illegal immigrant children, which makes it odd that the company was able to win the contract.

Mr. Katko also cited “alleged conflicts of interest between Endeavor’s leadership and the Biden administration.”

In their letter, the Republicans homed in on Endeavors’ move to appoint Andrew Lorenzen-Strait to the top federal affairs post at the company. Mr. Lorenzen-Strait, a former ICE official, was on the Biden transition team, and his hiring was announced on Jan. 20, the day Mr. Biden took office.

The Endeavors contract with the Department of Health and Human Services was first reported this month by Axios, sparking a number of questions from lawmakers. Endeavors also has a contact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, first reported by The Washington Examiner.

Mr. Comer and Mr. Katko, as ranking members, bring serious firepower to the effort to probe the deal.

They asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to disclose any communications his department had with Family Endeavors, any communication with Mr. Lorenzen-Strait and justification documents for the contract itself.

The contract was awarded as part of a scramble by the Biden team to get a handle on the surge of illegal immigrant children crossing the border.

Under the law, the children are supposed to be shipped from custody of border authorities, where they are kept in holding cells, to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours. HHS holds the children in facilities run by contractors such as Endeavors while the government searches for sponsors to take custody of the children on a more permanent basis.

The cost of housing has soared in recent years as more and more children stream north from Central America.

Before the first surge, which began in 2013 and peaked in 2014, HHS spent about $100 million a year on its Unaccompanied Alien Children program. It reached more than $800 million in 2014, dipped back below $500 million in 2015 and then jumped again in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Last year, HHS spent $1.75 billion.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been expecting the Biden administration to need to submit a request for emergency funding, but administration officials have repeatedly said they don’t have any plans right now to ask for more money.

Family Endeavors also won a no-bid contract with ICE valued at $86.9 million. That contract is to provide for 1,239 beds for ICE to process migrant families and provide space to hold those who test positive for COVID-19.

The company’s CEO, in a reply to The Washington Times, confirmed the ICE contract but referred questions to ICE.

HHS didn’t respond Wednesday afternoon to a request for comment.

March shattered the monthly record for the number of unaccompanied juveniles caught at the border. April’s numbers are running slightly lower, though border experts say that could be because more families are getting into the U.S. together and don’t see a need to separate their children anymore.

More than 20,500 children are currently in HHS-run facilities, and the number is rapidly rising, given the trends. Over the past week, Border Patrol agents caught an average of nearly 500 unaccompanied children each day. HHS averaged only about 315 children released per day.

Mr. Comer and Mr. Katko were joined by two dozen colleagues on their letter, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

HHS’s unaccompanied children program has awarded more than 1,600 contracts since 2008. Family Endeavors was listed for just one: a $2 million award this fiscal year to conduct home study and post-release services for children as they are placed with sponsors.

The new contract is worth up to $529.5 million, and $255.2 million has already been obligated, Mr. Comer and Mr. Katko said.

The no-bid contract was justified, ICE said, because speed was so critical that the contract couldn’t go through normal procedures. The agency said Endeavors’ $352.64 rate per bed per day was in line with what other contractors were charging.

“This action is required due to the urgency and time sensitivity of the situation coupled with the complexity of the services required,” ICE wrote in the justification document, which was signed late last month by ICE’s chief procurement officer, Soraya Correa, among others.

Mr. Lorenzen-Strait worked at ICE for more than a decade and ended his service in May 2019, when he was deputy assistant director for custody programs, overseeing the agency’s detention and release of migrants, including families.

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