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Letter to Inspector General Levinson - Reps. Mucarsel-Powell, Shalala, Wasserman Schultz Call for Investigation of Homestead Shelter, Gen. Kelly and Private Operator's No-bid Contract


May 13, 2019

Dear Inspector General Levinson:

We write to request an investigation of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Migrant Children ("Homestead shelter") and the recent no-bid contract given to its operator, Comprehensive Health Services, LLC, a subsidiary of Caliburn International.

As you know, the Office of Refugee Resettlement expanded bed capacity at the Homestead shelter from 2,350 to 3,200 in April. This is the second significant expansion of the shelter this year. When we toured the facility prior to the second expansion, we saw children living in prison-like conditions, with inadequate educational facilities and interpreters. The children were crammed into rooms with hundreds of beds and tents.

We tried to visit the facility in April 2019 to further assess the condition of these children after notice of the second expansion and fulfill our congressional oversight responsibilities. We were denied entry, and our constitutional oversight duties continue to be impeded by the facility and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The conditions we observed during our initial visits were unacceptable, even for a temporary detention facility. Despite these poor conditions, the Department has recently offered the Homestead shelter's operator, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), a new contract, which will see them earn almost half a billion in taxpayer funded dollars by the end of the year.

As noted on USAspending.gov and reported by the Miami Herald, the Department awarded Comprehensive Health Services a new contract worth more than $341 million to continue operating the Homestead shelter through November 30, 2019 and accommodate the increased influx of children. While the original contract for operation of the Homestead shelter was secured by CHS in a competitive bidding process, this new contract was offered to CHS behind closed doors on a no-bid basis.

As representatives of Miami-Dade County, where the shelter is located, we are deeply concerned with the conditions surrounding the contracting, particularly as this for-profit company continues to financially benefit from the prolonged detention of children.

It is disconcerting that such a critical contract would be awarded without an open bid process with comprehensive vetting. We respectfully ask that your office conduct an audit of the contracting process carried out by the Department and CHS.

Furthermore, we want to better understand General John Kelly's role in the new contract negotiations and seek clarity on his engagement in and influence on the process. As you know, Caliburn International recently announced its appointment of General Kelly, former White House Chief of Staff and former Secretary of Homeland Security, to its board of directors. According to a Miami Herald report, General Kelly was already a board member when the contract was announced. We find it troubling that General Kelly's tenure in the administration led to a dramatic increase in both the number of children held at the Homestead facility and the duration of time that unaccompanied children are being kept in government custody.

Above all, we require answers so that we can secure and protect the health and well-being of these children, as HHS continues to thwart our efforts to conduct congressional oversight on the quality of care provided to these minors.

These children are our collective responsibility. By operating this facility behind closed doors and offering for-profit companies no-bid contracts without oversight, HHS and ORR are ignoring the well-being of these children, when that should be the priority. It is imperative that CHS be held accountable to state and federal standards for child care and that the human rights and dignity of these unaccompanied children be protected.

We hope you will take the time to investigate these concerns expeditiously and do so with the thoroughness they demand. The health and welfare of detained unaccompanied children and the integrity of the Department are being put at risk by the treatment of these children at the Homestead shelter and by the process through which the shelter obtains its funding.

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Donna E. Shalala Debbie Wasserman Schultz Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress