CBP ends Accenture hiring contract ‘for convenience’

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has canceled its multi-million dollar contract with Accenture Federal Services, the company it initially brought on to help the agency meet a series of tough recruitment demands outlined in a 2017 executive order.

“CBP concluded the contract is no longer the best and most cost-effective way to support agency needs,” a spokeswoman said in an email to Federal News Network.

The decision came after CBP issued a partial stop work order on the contract back in December. During this time, CBP said it collaborated with Accenture to determine  “how to best leverage the contract going forward,” the spokeswoman said.

It was based on that collaboration that the agency decided it was best to terminate the contract for convenience on April 4, CBP said.

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Terminating a contract “for convenience” typically puts no penalty on the company, as CBP said.

Axois first reported the cancellation of the Accenture contract.

CBP has been waging an uphill battle to meet its staffing requirements for years. The agency hasn’t met its congressionally-mandated hiring goals since fiscal 2014, and it’s short 6,927 Border Patrol agents and roughly 1,000 CBP officers.

For the first time since 2013, CBP did hire more employees than it lost in 2018. The agency attributes this success, at least in part, to Accenture.

The company, as its CEO John Goodman told members of the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing last month on CBP’s recruitment challenges, built a recruiting system and customer service call centers to answer applicants’ questions during the hiring process.

These systems improved the agency’s “ability to process, track and support applicants throughout the hiring process,” the CBP spokeswoman said.

Accenture also created marketing and advertising materials and what Goodman described as a “talent network” of 100,000 potential applicants, which CBP can use into the future.

“The contract with CBP is 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,” an Accenture spokeswoman said in a statement. “In accordance with the contract, Accenture backs 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.”

CBP first signed a one-year contract with Accenture in November 2017 with four one-year options. The contract had a ceiling of up to $297 million, and Accenture didn’t get completely paid for the hiring it was supposed to handle — about $40,000 for each new hire — until an applicant had moved through the entire process and entered duty.

Some members of Congress were initially skeptical of the contract. A December report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which said Accenture had failed to live up to the contract’s expectations, heightened those concerns.

The CBP spokeswoman said the agency had paid Accenture a total of $21 million for work that has been invoiced and certified as complete. Of the $21 million, $19 million went toward the start-up costs of developing the new recruitment and customer service systems and creating marketing materials.

The remaining $2 million paid for the 56 people who Accenture had helped through the hiring process and had accepted job offers with CBP, Goodman told lawmakers in March.

That’s well short of what CBP initially called for in two separate work orders with Accenture — 613 new hires worth $24 million in November 2017 and an additional 389 new hires in September 2018 for $17 million.

In total, CBP issued the company orders worth $60 million, the agency’s spokeswoman said.

CBP and Accenture are working to settle outstanding charges for any work that was still in progress at the time of the contract’s cancellation, the agency spokeswoman said. About $39 million remains on the contract and should cover the outstanding charges, the agency said.

Any remaining funds will be returned to the Treasury, the CBP spokeswoman said.

“CBP learned valuable lessons about industry standards in recruiting, applicant care and hiring,” the agency spokeswoman said. “Additionally we recognized and matured our internal capacity to grow the frontline workforce. These valuable lessons will be carried forward as we continue to implement recruitment strategies that ensure the frontline is staffed with personnel whose skills, knowledge and character are equal to the task.”

The National Treasury Employees Union, who was an outspoken critic of the contract in the beginning, praised the decision to end the Accenture contract.

“We hope the administration will devote adequate resources to use the tools it already has with the existing CBP personnel system, rather than signing another multi-million dollar deal with a private contractor that simply cannot deliver,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said Friday in a statement.

NTEU, which represents 27,000 CBP officers, agriculture specialists and trade enforcement personnel, recently endorsed a bipartisan Senate bill that would allow the agency to hire no less than 600 additional officers a year until it meets staffing goals.

The bill, which Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced this week, specifies hiring would occur at both the southern border and other ports of entry across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security earlier this week announced plans to voluntarily reassign as many as 2,000 additional CBP personnel to the southern border.

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