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ICE looks to private sector to help hire nearly 6,600 workers to support 10,000 new agents

In this Nov. 13, 2016 file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent passes along a section of border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The GOP-controlled House is plowing ahead on legislation to give the Pentagon a massive spending boost and deliver a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump's oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

President Donald Trump’s goal of hiring more Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents means the agency also has to hire thousands of additional support workers. ICE is looking to the private sector for help.

ICE said it needs to fill 6,597 “support personnel positions” to accommodate the 10,000 new agents.

The agency said it will contract with the private sector to help recruit, process and hire the support workers. The cost isn’t known, since no official solicitation has been issued.

As of Wednesday, 17 companies have expressed interest in bidding on the contract when the time comes.

A little more than year ago, Trump signed an executive order that spelled out his administration’s initial steps to crack down on unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. — chief among them a mandate to hire an additional 10,000 new ICE agents.

ICE has yet to hire the new agents. The agency said this month that it has built a “pipeline” of candidates it can begin putting through the hiring process but has to wait for Congress to appropriate money to do so.

ICE now has a workforce of 20,000 — including agents, officers, investigators and non-law-enforcement support workers.

The decision by ICE to turn to the private sector to help with hiring new support personnel echoes what Customs and Border Protection did in November. That action has drawn scrutiny from the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Trump wants CBP to hire an additional 5,000 Border Patrol agents, a mandate made in a different executive order issued around the same time as the one calling for 10,000 new ICE agents. To do that, CBP signed a contract with the consulting firm Accenture for up to $297 million over five years to help hire the Border Patrol agents, 2,000 customs officers and 500 agents for its Air and Marine Operations.

That works out to a bit more than $39,000 per hire — just below the entry level salary for a customs officer. The agency has to work through 133 applicants to hire a single agent.

ICE says it has a similar problem. In a statement of objectives for the recruitment assistance contract, the agency said the surge in hiring will overwhelm its internal personnel office. That office “does not have the capacity to execute at the pace and scope of the hiring activities required to meet this target with its current federal human resources workforce.

The contractor who gets the ICE job will be charged with recruitment, market research, data analytics, marketing, hiring, and getting new hires started at the agency. The government said it will pay based on results and not simply completing tasks — a pay-for-performance model.

A spokeswoman for the agency said in an email that the agency has been preparing for the huge increase in its workforce. It has been granted permission to hire retired workers who can be paid without offsetting reduction in their pension, and the authority to directly hire people without going through the federal Office of Personnel Management.

The pending contract is the latest example of the ripple effects from Trump’s call to boost border security and immigration enforcement, and the challenges facing the law enforcement agencies in making those goals.

The $297 million Accenture contract caught the attention of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security committee. On Jan. 3 she wrote to Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan demanding answers to several questions about the deal, including why CBP needed help from a contractor to hire new agents in the first place. She also requested a briefing on the deal.

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© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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