Accenture questioned over DHS HR contract

NOTE: This article was first published by FCW.com. 

Lawmakers pressed Accenture Federal Services over its contract, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to build a hiring system for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The goal of the system was to help the agency bring on 7,500 agents over the course of the five-year deal to fulfill President Donald's Trump's executive order to increase agency staff.

The contract, signed in late 2017, has resulted in 36 hires "who had entered duty" and 56 job offers before CBP issued a partial stop work order in December, testified John Goodman, the chief executive of Accenture Federal Services, March 7 before a congressional panel.

A critical inspector general report raised issues with a host of challenges posed by the hiring processes, systems and technology the company was charged with delivering. Goodman testified the report "painted an inaccurate and incomplete picture," adding it "mischaracterizes the contract and ignores our progress."

Goodman testified that while the ceiling value of the contract was $297 million, the agency to date had been paid $19 million, and "only receives $40,000 per hire." He added that about 4,000 applicants have been processed "through various hiring steps."

For the money the company's been paid to date, Goodman told lawmakers Accenture Federal Services has "built a recruiting system, customer care system, two call centers, and lots of content."

"AFS helped lay foundation for a modern, state-of-the-art hiring process that is today delivering results for CBP," he said. "This contract was very favorable to both the agency and taxpayer."

Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said based on the 36 hires and $19 million figures Goodman gave, "that's about half a million dollars per hire. Do we really think that's a good investment of taxpayer dollars?"

According to USASpending, CBP has <href="> obligated $43.9 million for the award.

Goodman pointed to the agency requirement to polygraph job applicants as creating a # /"choke point" in the hiring process.

Goodman told reporters after the hearing, "I respect CBP's decision to press the pause button and determine how the program can work most effectively, and we're working and engaging with them to help as much as we can with that process."

Without the IT system delivering the thousands of border patrol agents called for by executive order, the agency remains about 7,000 agents below its target level, testified Rebecca Gambler, director of the Government Accountability Office's Homeland Security and Justice team.

The agency also has other, existing IT issues complicating its ability to hire new employees.

Benjamine Huffman, CBP's acting Executive Assistant Commissioner of Enterprise Services, said the agency has been "exploring creative ways to pay" employees and has been offering recruitment, retention and relocation incentives. He also said the agency has been actively recruiting college students and veterans.

"For the first time in six years, we hired more than we lost in attrition," he said.

Gambler added that the number of applications has recently increased, time-to-hire dramatically decreased, and applicant pass rates have more than doubled since 2016, when the agency created a centralized recruitment office. Still, the average time to hire, as of fiscal year 2017, is about 318 days for a CBP officer and 274 for a border patrol agent, and less than 3 percent of applicants are ultimately hired.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that the best way to improve recruitment and retention is to improve morale — particularly through financial incentives for new hires, long-time employees and those having to relocate.

"The best recruiting mechanism that could exist," said Reardon, "is if [current CBP officers] were working in a place where they felt valued."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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