Former Biden official who won $87M to house migrants banned from ICE contracts
The Biden transition team official who brokered an $87 million immigration contract for a nonprofit organization that he was simultaneously advising was never cleared by federal authorities to work on the deal and has since been banned from any future work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to agency documents.
A high-ranking ICE official in Washington, D.C., on June 2 sent his colleagues a message obtained by the Washington Examiner that stated Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, the senior director for migrant services and federal affairs at the nonprofit Family Endeavors, was denied the proper clearance to work on the contract he had secured for his organization months earlier.
“Mr. Andrew Lorenzen-Strait was not cleared to work on ISAP-IV. Please remove Mr. Andrew Lorenzen-Strait from supporting the ISAP IV contract,” wrote Joshua Jones, the management and program analyst for the Alternatives to Detention program within ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations’s Custody Management office. ISAP-IV is the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program IV’s Support Services, through which ICE manages illegal immigrants who have come across the border and have been released into the United States.
Lawyers familiar with the new development said that Lorenzen-Strait, who had overseen ICE's custody management, only adds to concerning evidence that prompted the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to launch an investigation into the deal following the Washington Examiner’s reporting this spring.
"He has a conflict of interest under 5 CFR 2641.201, which permanently bans any former federal employee from working on a federal contract that he or she substantially participated in or had some influence over while serving as a federal employee," Carol Thompson, a partner with the Washington-based Federal Practice Group law firm, wrote in an email. "I think it’s clear in this case that Mr. Lorenzen-Strait falls in that category."
“References to Lorenzen-Strait in a DHS contract email raises questions about the integrity of the award and it might be another example of how the revolving door and friends in high places sways government decisions and deals,” Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan organization in Washington that investigates government corruption, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Lorenzen-Strait was first identified as the broker in the $87 million ICE contract by Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, as well as two other people with knowledge of the situation. He has weaved in and out of government for more than a decade, working at ICE from 2008 to May 2019, where his last responsibility included overseeing all family detention centers, which ICE has chosen not to use since President Joe Biden took office in January, even as it continues to pay to operate the extensive facilities nationwide.
At ICE, Lorenzen-Strait reported directly to Tae Johnson, who is now the temporary leader of the agency. Another ICE official, Claire Trickler-McNulty, worked directly under Lorenzen-Strait at the time that he left ICE in 2019. Trickler-McNulty this year was given full authority over acquisitions and contracts despite it being outside her responsibility, three people with knowledge of the situation confirmed.
Lorenzen-Strait left ICE in mid-2019 and initially joined the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, where he oversaw “100 partners in 39 states across the country who provide child welfare services to refugee and migrant children.”
He joined the Biden-Harris transition team in 2020, where he was responsible for “conducting interviews and vetting for political appointees” at Health and Human Services, the department that cares for unaccompanied migrant children who show up at the border.
Lorenzen-Strait was also on Biden's DHS policy team, where he may have learned of the incoming administration's plans for border policies and the use of ICE family facilities.
While on the transition team, Lorenzen-Strait was the managing director of Lorenzen-Strait Consulting Services, which he launched after leaving ICE in 2019. The firm is described on his LinkedIn page as providing clients “with seasoned consulting services and government relations in the practices areas of homeland security, health and human services, and federal procurement.” However, Family Endeavors was a client during Lorenzen-Strait's time on the transition team, which began in September 2020 and went into January.
He was named Family Endeavors’s senior director for migrant services and federal affairs on Jan. 20. As such, he acquired government contracts for Endeavors, which, up until this point, had received no more than $2 million in a single contract for tasks.
In its rush to stand up facilities to hold families who were over the southern border illegally in rising numbers in March, the Biden administration signed two deals worth more than $600 million that revolved around child and family detention. ICE signed an $87 million deal for Lorenzen-Strait’s organization to oversee an operation involving 1,200 hotel beds to house migrant families for three days at a time in Arizona and Texas. Three people with knowledge of the contract said several of the seven hotels selected for use have gone unused, prompting questions about how the money has been spent.
In an unusual move, the government did not seek bids from other U.S. organizations and businesses, instead making a deal through Lorenzen-Strait, as the three officials with knowledge claimed. No-bid awards are only permitted in emergencies, according toThompson. ICE cited "unusual and compelling urgency" for not complying with federal contract law.
“Lorenzen-Strait's activities while on the transition team should be fully investigated to ensure he wasn't raiding the cupboards and gaining inside information,” Amey added. “That said, federal agencies selected Family Endeavors for multimillion non-competitive contracts, and we need assurances that the award process was fair and with complete impartiality.”
In March, HHS signed a deal with Family Endeavors, offering it $530 million to house unaccompanied migrant children in Pecos, Texas, after the children are initially intercepted by the Border Patrol. The new contract is 12 times greater than the $43 million worth of work that Family Endeavors did in 2018, according to tax documents.
In May, Lorenzen-Strait began asking the public for donations to fly families detained in its hotels to destinations across the country where they would live until showing up for immigration court years down the road. Family Endeavors told the Washington Examiner that it was “seeking private support to ensure migrant families without the means to procure transportation to their final destination are able to do so.”
Family Endeavors confirmed that Lorenzen-Strait has stopped working with ICE.
"We have followed all DHS directives. Mr. Lorenzen-Strait has not worked with ICE programs since being informed of the department’s determination. The quality, compassionate services for which we’ve contracted continue to be provided by Endeavors’ experienced, capable staff," a spokesperson wrote in an email.
The situation could further jeopardize the legitimacy of the contract, affecting how migrants in Family Endeavors's care are held.
"It wouldn’t necessarily invalidate the contract, assuming there are other individuals who are cleared to work on the contract, but it could raise additional arguments for those seeking to challenge the contract in stating that it was clearly issued with malintent and against federal regulation," Thompson said.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.