In response to the alert, CBP told the inspector general it plans to award a new two-year medical services contract on or about September 24.
Medical services for migrants, particularly for children, have been at the forefront during the Trump administration. Two children died in Border Patrol custody
at the end of 2018 as the US was facing an increase in migrants arriving at the southern border. In the following months, the agency rushed to increase its medical capabilities
for children and faced severe overcrowding
in its facilities, which are designed for very short-term detention.
In response to the stark warning from the inspector general, CBP said the watchdog's concern was "misplaced," adding that pre-solicitation efforts are "well underway to ensure a timely FY 2020 award." The agency questioned why the inspector general would issue such an alert, "which in addition to being incorrect, is certain to cause unwarranted alarm and panic."
"CBP fully recognizes the critical need for medical services to continue uninterrupted, especially considering the COVID-19
pandemic that poses serious health and public safety risk to both migrants in CBP custody and to CBP personnel," Henry A. Moak Jr., CBP's senior component accountable official, wrote in the agency's response, which was included in the alert.
CBP has an agreement with Loyal Source Government Services to provide onsite medical services, which includes health interviews, medical evaluations, screening, triage, limited treatment and referrals to the local health system. The contract was initially awarded for migrants in the Rio Grande Valley area and was expanded in 2018 to additional locations. The current agreement expires on September 29.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security recommended that CBP and its sister agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Emergency Management Agency,establish a joint contract for medical services to begin in fiscal year 2022. In the meantime, CBP was directed to award a short-term or "bridge" contract to provide medical services during this gap.
There were delays throughout the summer in soliciting the contract.
Border Patrol staff and a CBP contracting officer expressed concerns to the inspector general about the status and consequences of not having a medical contract, noting that "CBP could not risk deaths in custody again," according to the management alert.
If the contract is not secured, it could "jeopardize the health and safety of migrants in CBP custody, who may already be at higher risk of more severe illness from COVID-19," the IG wrote.
Although CBP officers and agents are required to monitor the health of migrants in custody, their training is limited, specifically when dealing with children, according to the watchdog.
CNN has reached out to CBP for additional comment.