MIAMI (AP) — Three Democratic lawmakers are asking a government watchdog agency to investigate how a private company tied to former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly secured a no-bid contract to hold migrant children in a Florida facility.
South Florida U.S. representatives Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell sent a letter to the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday. In the document made public Tuesday, the House members ask for a probe of Kelly's role in the contract negotiations, given he was a board member of the contractor's umbrella company, Caliburn International.
"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," the letter says. "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."
Tesia Williams, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that the office had received the letter and was reviewing it for appropriate response.
The government manages a network of more than 160 facilities around the country for child migrants in HHS custody. The one in Homestead is the largest. About 2,200 teens are held there after crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian. But the facility could expand to hold up to 3,200 children.
Previous contracts for the Homestead, Florida facility were awarded in a competitive process. But in April, HHS awarded Caliburn's subsidiary Comprehensive Health Services a contract worth more than $341 million to expand the center in a no-bid phase.
As Homeland Security secretary, Kelly was the first official to publicly say the U.S. government was considering separating migrant families, saying it would be a deterrent for others considering migrating north.
The government ended President Donald Trump's policy that led to the separation of migrant families last summer, but minors who cross the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied continue to be apprehended and transferred to the custody of HHS.
Kelly, who was appointed White House chief of staff in July 2017, stepped down from the post in January. In early April, he was spotted touring the Homestead camp.
Before joining the White House, Kelly was already affiliated with DC Capital Partners, the Washington private equity firm that formed Caliburn.