McKinsey & Company expose has ripple effect

Criticism of firm spills over into Mass., presidential campaign

A STORY DOCUMENTING how international strategic consulting firm McKinsey & Co. worked with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reduce food and medical costs to levels below federal requirements is having repercussions in Massachusetts and in the race for president.

The New York Times and ProPublica, an investigative news outlet, sued ICE under the Freedom of Information Act for 1,500 pages of documents, including internal emails.   

 “The money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE workers uncomfortable,” the Times-ProPublica report says. The recommendations included accelerating the deportation process, speeding up the hiring of 10,000 immigration officers (a Trump goal), recommending ways to circumvent due process, and decreasing food stores.  

 McKinsey was hired initially by the Obama administration, and the firm was retained by the Trump administration, with its contract ending in July 2018. The company then secured a $10 million contract with Customs and Border Patrol through 2020.   

 A McKinsey spokesman said the focus was to help ICE run more “effectively and cost-efficiently,” and maintained that the work “did not change as a result of (Trump’s) executive orders.” 

The investigation uncovered a 2018 McKinsey internal email where the firm’s leadership said it never focused on developing immigration policies and that the company would not “engage in work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.”

Those who oppose Trump’s immigration policies have a big problem with what McKinsey did. Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit legal organization, sent letters to Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Letitia James urging an investigation into McKinsey.

 “Based on the available evidence disclosed by news outlets, it is apparent that McKinsey and its leadership have deceived the public, including company employees and tax-paying consumers, regarding the extent of the firm’s entanglement with ICE,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director for the attorney group.  

 The letter recommends the attorneys general launch a formal investigation into the company’s business and trade practices, and demands state officials sever any current ties to the company and avoid new ones. Healey’s office says it is reviewing the letter.  

 According to state spending data, Massachusetts paid McKinsey $11 million in 2017, split between a $5.75 million contract with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, and a $5.31 million contract with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The state spending website lists no spending for 2018 or 2019.  

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has urged the company to disclose more about its dealings with Saudi Arabia, is facing scrutiny herself. A report from the Washington Times this week said Warren used McKinsey’s consulting services to develop a long-term development plan during her days at Harvard Law School. The move earned the ire of students. Her daughter also worked for the company in the 1990s.

 Another presidential contender, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is under fire for not disclosing details about his time with the company in the mid-2000s, something he attributes to a nondisclosure agreement he signed with the firm. He saiod he’s asked to be let out of the agreement for the sake of transparency. The New York Times fills in a few gaps on his time with McKinsey with interviews of people involved with some of his McKinsey projects. Buttigieg has also called the decision by ICE to do what McKinsey recommended “disgusting.”

 Buttigieg has claimed his private-sector experience with the company distinguishes him as the candidate that understands capitalism, but an editorial in the New York Times suggests he has difficulty making that claim without disclosing more information about his time there.