FIRST ON FOX: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are pushing for answers from the Department of Health and Human Services on its use of "no-bid" contract awards amid reports of "disturbing" conditions at centers housing unaccompanied children coming across the border.

"In light of multiple whistleblower complaints received by the Committee alleging disturbing conditions at HHS Emergency Intake Sites (EIS) housing unaccompanied children, there are serious questions about HHS’ use of and failure to adequately oversee multiple contractors with no childcare experience," the letter penned by Ranking Member James Comer and other Republicans on the Committee says.

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"We are concerned that this has led to gross mismanagement and abuse.

HHS opened a number of sites as it struggled to deal with an influx of child migrants coming across the border unaccompanied as part of the surge in migration that has overwhelmed authorities. The sites, which included military bases, were opened to ease capacity at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities at the border.

The lawmakers say that the committee received multiple complaints from whistleblowers detailed at the EIS at Fort Bliss, Texas, who alleged poor conditions and management – while a recent complaint said that the issues are "ongoing, systemic and repeated EIS-wide."

The complaints include "rampant" lice at multiple facilities and at Fort Bliss, overcrowded tents, unwashed bedding, children pleading for showers and clean underwear, loud music being played to wake up the children and resistance to requests for medical attention. 

"The whistleblowers were discouraged from providing feedback about these problems, and complaints made to HHS went unanswered," the letter says.

"If these reports are true, this is unacceptable. Not only is this a gross mismanagement of taxpayer dollars, but it is inhumane treatment of children," the letter adds. "This cannot be allowed to continue in America."

The Republicans tie the allegations into HHS's decision to award contracts on a "no-bid" basis. The Associated Press reported in May that the government has awarded about $3 billion in contracts since February, more than $2 billion of which were "no-bid" contracts awarded to three recipients.

Those companies have traditionally responded to national disasters and built COVID-quarantine centers. But, as the U.S. encountered record numbers of unaccompanied children, they moved into shelter-construction.

In a statement to the Associated Press, HHS said the new child-migrant centers are "consistent with best practices/standards in emergency response or other humanitarian situations."

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The letter said that "[i]t is imperative that Committee Republicans understand whether HHS is adequately supervising its contractors, whether the contractors caring for children are actually qualified to do so, whether these contractors are providing the services they promised in exchange for billions of dollars in taxpayer funds, and if the allegations of neglect and poor conditions are true, then what steps are HHS and contractors taking to remedy the conditions."

The lawmakers request documents related to the complaints, to background check requirements, training for personnel and detailees and the contract awards.

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The request comes after Rep. Jody Hice, R-Texas, earlier this week requested information from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on the impact that moving federal volunteers from their agencies to help with the migrant surge had on the working of their agencies.

Meanwhile, Customs and Border Protection announced Wednesday that there were 18,847 encounters of unaccompanied children in August, down slightly from July.