Contracting

CBP's $297M HR systems contract yields just two hires

(Image by Stephen VanHorn/Shutterstock) 

Customs and Border Protection's year-old $297 million contract with Accenture to set up new hiring processes and systems, is fraught with technical and management snags, according to the agency and the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security.

A DHS OIG's management alert issued Dec. 6 said that the agency had paid Accenture $13.6 million in start-up costs but the system had only processed two accepted job offers.

CBP said it is continuing to review the year-old contract and a significant rescoping and possible claw-back of obligated funds are on the table.

The system was put in place to address the Trump Administration's call for thousands of additional border agents.

CBP has sought to transformative solutions for many border protection capabilities, looking to cutting-edge commercial technologies to replace aging processes. The agency said that innovation was part of the difficulty with the Accenture contract.

"While we take some exception to the OIG's characterization of the contract," a CBP spokesman said in a statement to FCW, "we do agree the contract has been a challenge, primarily due to the innovative efforts by both parties, and we are reviewing how best to use it moving forward."

In its reply comments to OIG, CPB official Henry A. Moak Jr. said the agency "recognized from the start that [the contract] had some risk, but we believed the value of the initial investment was warranted" because of the goal of improving results.

A rush to quickly deploy technology that has to meet increasingly exacting review processes could also have played a role in CBP's use of a new retinal-scan lie detection capability under the contract.

The OIG questioned the agency's use of "EyeDetect" retinal scan lie detector technology for an August hiring event. Accenture, said the report, plans to use the technology in the hiring system to winnow viable job candidates. EyeDetect was created by Utah-based Converus, which is marketing it to state and federal governments as a fast, accurate vetting system.

However, the OIG said CBP didn't let the DHS Science and Technology Directorate review the technology for compliance with privacy laws and regulations before deploying it at the event.

This review is the subject of some dispute in the IG report. CPB says it did get the S&T signoff, but the IG countered that it had evidence backing its assertion.

Additionally, the OIG said Accenture's innovative push to use its "e86" automation software to validate electronic security clearance forms and accelerate background investigations has been problematic.

The software, it said, isn't in use because of "functionality issues
including high error rates and multiple software bugs." As a result, the company is processing security clearance forms by hand, which has caused a backlog.

CBP is supporting four recommendations laid out by the OIG to get a better handle on the contract. These include a March 31, 2019 deadline to determine a rescoping of the contract to focus on what's working and to eliminate other areas. In the course of this review, CPB said it will determine whether the agency paid for capabilities that were not delivered and seek reimbursement from Accenture. In its reply comments, CBP said it does not believe that government paid for services that were not provided.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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