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McKinsey Called Our Story About Its ICE Contract False. It’s Not.

The consulting giant asserts our story “misleads readers” and “disregards facts” — but its statement mischaracterizes what’s in the article, ignores hundreds of pages of proof we shared with the firm and provides no evidence to back its claims.

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This month, we wrote an article revealing how the consulting giant McKinsey & Company helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement implement the Trump administration’s immigration policies. The article reported that, after President Donald Trump launched a crackdown on illegal immigration in early 2017, McKinsey, which was already working for ICE on a project dating to the previous administration, was redirected to focus on advising the agency on two elements of Trump’s crackdown: hiring 10,000 new immigration officers and reducing the cost of handling an expected influx of migrant detainees.

The article described how McKinsey “proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees,” noting that some of McKinsey’s recommendations made ICE staffers uncomfortable. The story explained that it was based on “interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.” It incorporated several statements and responses from McKinsey and ICE.

After the article was published, McKinsey posted an 800-word statement on its website criticizing the article. McKinsey paid to have the statement treated as an advertisement on Google, so it appears above the original article in an online search for “McKinsey ICE.”

McKinsey alleges that the article “ignores many of the factual points that we presented” and “misleads readers” about the firm’s work for ICE. It asserts that “while we offered extensive on-the-record comments in response to more than a dozen questions, the story contains only the barest of statements from McKinsey and ignores many of the factual points that we presented.”

McKinsey’s statement contains a number of misleading claims — including repeatedly mischaracterizing what was said in the article — and several falsehoods.

McKinsey was aware of the detailed evidence that the article was built on. Three weeks before it was published, ProPublica provided McKinsey’s spokesman with a detailed list of factual assertions arising from our reporting. ProPublica also sent them copies of the documents cited in the article: 15 documents that added up to a total of 297 pages. McKinsey has neither challenged any of those documents nor provided any evidence that contradicts them.

McKinsey’s Claim:

“The article’s foundational claim that our work was ‘redirected’ by the new administration in 2017 is false. As we have stated previously, the scope and goals of our work did not change in any material way from when the project was defined during the prior administration.”

ProPublica’s Response:

McKinsey’s point seems to hinge on the word “material.” The firm maintains that because its project involved analyzing hiring and detention costs during the Obama and Trump administrations, the nature of its work did not change. The article noted McKinsey’s statement to that effect.

But documents, corroborated by people who worked on the project for McKinsey and for ICE, show that this claim is misleading. For example, two McKinsey slides, presented below, show that the firm’s hiring work was reoriented toward helping ICE comply with Trump’s executive order directing the agency to hire 10,000 immigration officers. One is titled “Initiatives to improve ICE Hiring and address the Executive Order.” The other is titled “The hiring system can work better and meet additional hiring needs brought on by the Executive Order.”

Obtained by ProPublica

McKinsey’s slides also noted that the immigrant influx would give ICE growing clout with detention centers, underscoring the firm’s involvement in advising the agency on detention spending: “ICE is a significant and growing share of industry revenue for private detention providers and is well-positioned to negotiate with vendors.”

Obtained by ProPublica

Finally, when asked about McKinsey and its role, ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox did not dispute that the firm’s work was redirected toward helping execute the new administration’s immigration priorities. In the article, he was quoted saying that McKinsey’s work yielded “measurable improvements ... in the time to remove aliens.”


“We did not recommend a reduction in the quality of food or healthcare for detainees.”


ProPublica did not report that McKinsey recommended a reduction in the quality of food and medical care. The article reported that McKinsey recommended reducing the amount of money spent on food and medical care. (As noted, the text of the story used the phrase “proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care.”)

McKinsey did not dispute that prior to publication and does not dispute it now. Neither did Cox, the ICE spokesman.


“The article falsely claims that our team ‘looked to cut costs by lowering standards at ICE detention facilities.’ In fact, the focus of our procurement work was helping to negotiate better pricing with vendors when the agency was being overcharged.”


McKinsey’s claim is contradicted by an internal ICE email, among other things. On March 30, 2017, an ICE official wrote the following to a colleague: “What is McKinsey looking to find? They are looking for ways to cut or reduce standards because they are too costly and to achieve cost savings through edits to the standards without sacrificing quality, safety and mission.”

Obtained by ProPublica

Two former ICE officials who worked on the project corroborated that McKinsey looked at whether ICE could save money by cutting detention standards. The ICE spokesman did not dispute that. Nor did McKinsey when it was provided with a copy of the email three weeks before publication.


“At no point did our team recommend lowering standards in any way.”


The article does not report that McKinsey recommended lowering detention standards, but rather that it considered doing so. (See the March 30, 2017, email above.) The article stated that McKinsey “looked to cut costs by lowering standards at ICE detention facilities” but later abandoned that effort because the consultants “found it difficult to attach a dollar figure to the standards themselves.”

Neither ICE nor McKinsey has disputed those facts.


“The article incorrectly states that ‘the firm was deeply involved in executing policies fundamental to the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.’ This is untrue. The scope and goals of our work were established during the prior administration, and they did not change in any material way after the transition in administrations.”


This essentially repeats the first claim addressed above. The same response applies.


“The article questions whether elements of our work ‘risked short-circuiting due-process protections for migrants.’ Tellingly, the article offers no evidence for this claim — because it isn’t true. Our work related to removal was solely focused on making the process more efficient once a final legal determination was made regarding someone’s case. Our work did not affect the due process rights of anyone.”


McKinsey’s statement misrepresents what was in the article. The article stated that some ICE staffers worried that McKinsey’s recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants. McKinsey did not — and does not — dispute that some members of ICE’s staff had that concern. Neither does ICE.


“Finally, regarding our work for US Customs and Border Protection: The documents referenced in the article relate to our work helping the agency think through and draft a five-year strategy. McKinsey did not advise CBP on detentions, the border wall or other field operations.”


In this instance McKinsey is confirming something we wrote — that the firm advised CBP on what initiatives to prioritize in its new border strategy — and then seemingly drawing a semantic distinction about the extent of its role. Here are some of the details of the “Strategic Priority Initiatives” McKinsey presented CBP, as reflected in the firm’s slides: “invest in impedance and denial capability”; “work with partner agencies and components to maximize programs that discourage illegal entries”; and in one instance, under the heading, “Border Security,” simply “Wall.”

Obtained by ProPublica

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Portrait of Ian MacDougall

Ian MacDougall

Ian MacDougall is a contributing reporter at ProPublica.

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