From April 2021 to September 2021, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted remote inspections of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) hotel facilities to assess compliance by the contractor, Endeavors, with ICE detention standards and COVID-19 requirements.
In early 2021, ICE anticipated a surge in migrant families. To increase its housing capacity for detained families, ICE entered into an $86.9 million sole source contract with Endeavors for approximately six months (March to September 2021) to provide 1,239 beds and other necessary services in hotels. The contract with Endeavors included the use of six hotels, which were repurposed as Emergency Family Reception Sites (FRS), set up to accommodate migrants for stays typically lasting less than three days while ICE considered conditions of release based on specific circumstances, including alternatives to detention.
Rather than using the competitive procurement process, OIG found that ICE awarded a sole source contract to Endeavors, which had provided an unsolicited proposal for housing migrant families in hotels. A Government agency typically receives proposals from contractors after it has put out a request for proposal. However, Endeavors provided a proposal without such a request from ICE. In this instance, ICE cited “unusual and compelling urgency” as the basis for an exception to the competitive contracting process. ICE’s justification noted that Endeavors was the only known source capable of meeting the requirements.
In its April 12 report, OIG says ICE did not adequately justify the need for the sole source contract to house migrant families and spent approximately $17 million for hotel space and services at six hotels that went largely unused between April and June 2021. OIG found ICE did not accurately determine the number of beds necessary to address the anticipated surge, and that the sole source contract with Endeavors resulted in millions of dollars being spent on unused hotel space.
According to OIG, ICE did not have supporting documentation to establish that Endeavors was the only contractor that could provide the services needed. ICE records showed that Endeavors had no experience providing the services covered by the sole source contract, including hotel beds or all-inclusive emergency family residential services. Rather, the contractor only had experience providing staffing for other migrant services.
In addition, OIG found that Endeavors did not meet new healthcare protocols or ensure proper COVID-19 testing for families. For example, families were not tested by ICE for COVID-19 prior to being transported to hotels and were not always tested by Endeavors staff upon arrival at or departure from hotels, putting migrant families and the outside population at risk of contracting COVID-19.
According to ICE, there were 1,713 cases of COVID-19 in the six Emergency FRS operated by Endeavors between April 9, 2021, and November 18, 2021. OIG determined that Endeavors took some steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 such as testing staff and quarantining families, but several testing practices were deficient. OIG found ICE did not ensure migrant families, even those with symptoms, were tested prior to being transported to hotels. For example, ICE did not have a process for rapid onsite testing, which would allow ICE to identify and separate families that are COVID-19 positive from those that are negative. Without rapid testing, migrant families that tested positive once they reached the hotel had already spent up to four hours on a bus, exposing others to the virus.
Further, the watchdog found that Endeavors did not follow required ICE standards to ensure the proper care for housing migrant families while such families were residing in its facilities. For example, none of the facilities were found to have the required handheld video cameras to record use-of-force incidents.
To address the shortcomings, OIG made four recommendations:
- Ensure appropriate contract processes and policies are followed, including the use of sole source contracting for hotel space.
- Conduct a full assessment of ICE’s migrant family housing needs, including its existing agreements at Family Residential Centers, before entering into a similar or follow-on contract for additional bed space.
- Implement testing protocols for the remainder of the COVID-19 response to ensure that migrant families are tested.
- Ensure Endeavors complies with the new healthcare protocols and modified FRS at facilities covered by those standards.
ICE did not agree with the first recommendation, stating it used a valid exception to competition given the urgency of the migrant crisis on the Southwest border. OIG responded that ICE did not produce supporting documentation to show that Endeavours was the most suitable contractor for the job, but “administratively” closed the recommendation because as of March 31, 2022, ICE has closed all of the hotels.
ICE agreed with the second recommendation and said should its requirement for housing migrant families change in the future, then ICE will conduct an assessment to appropriately determine the housing needs of families before entering into a similar or new contract.
The agency did not concur with the remaining two recommendations. OIG maintained these were valid but again administratively closed them as a result of the hotels themselves being closed by ICE.