Especially After Recent Reports, Voters Deserve to Know More about Mayor Pete’s Work at McKinsey

Mayor Pete Buttigieg meeting with potential voters on the campaign trail in South Carolina earlier this week. / Image via CBS News (screen grab).

Yesterday, a major report by ProPublica and the New York Times revealed how global consulting giant McKinsey & Co. helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “figure out how to execute [a] clampdown on illegal immigration” – and then some.

As Ian MacDougall explained, some of McKinsey’s “recommendations” left “career ICE staff uncomfortable,” including

proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to 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.

McKinsey apparently “also looked for ways to accelerate” deportations, raising alarms about “short-circuiting due process protections for migrants.”

That ICE staff members—an agency with a long legacy of disastrous abuse and neglect, one only further weaponized in the Trump era—expressed such concerns while McKinsey “ghostwrote a … contracting document [defining their] own responsibilities,” extending their contract for $2.2 million, is jaw-dropping.

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https://twitter.com/AnandWrites/status/1201992494034149376

 

Mayor Pete, McKinsey and Many Open Questions

Last month, BuzzFeed News’s Henry Gomez drew attention to Democratic Party Primary contender and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s links to McKinsey.

As Gomez summarized of Mr. Buttigieg’s opaque role:

For nearly three years, he worked at McKinsey & Company, an elite management consulting firm with offices around the world. It was work that took him, he has said, to Iraq and Afghanistan. And for years after that, in his early campaigns for public office, Buttigieg held up his stint at McKinsey as a selling point and proof that he was a business-friendly Democrat, while only vaguely describing what he did and never revealing his clients.

Mr. Buttigieg and representatives from his campaign repeatedly have declined to elaborate on his time at McKinsey, citing a nondisclosure agreement (NDA).

The very existence of a binding NDA preventing a presidential primary candidate from discussing even superficial details of three years’ worth of work in the private sector feels anathema to opposing the opaque, disinformation-fueled Trump administration.

Big Business Ties and Corporate Pinkwashing

The vacuity of corporate “inclusion” metrics comes to mind. It’s been a banner year for corporate pinkwashing – and add the case of McKinsey to the growing list.

The ways in which duplicitous or outright authoritarian-embracing firms tout “diversity and inclusion” (D&I) bona fides go hand-in-hand; the latter, firms hope, may absolve them of criticisms grounded in reports about the former.

Few global consulting firms have published as much research on or proudly displayed their D&I work quite like McKinsey. There are reputational rewards for embracing such policies. McKinsey & Co., after all, received a perfect score in HRC’s 2019 employer ratings – as did peer consulting firms like Accenture, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Morningstar.

(AT&T also received a perfect 100, despite its recurrent support for dangerously anti-LGBTQ political interests and leaders; Deloitte, meanwhile, has only increased its consulting work with ICE during the Trump era, as Judd Legum pointed out on Twitter and reported on earlier this year at Popular Information.)

A growing consensus of corporate America on LGBTQ+ policies—and HRC’s metrics are broadly policy-focused, like whether a firm offers same-sex spousal benefits or has an “employer group or diversity council”—does not necessarily reflect inclusive office environments or the experiences of everyday workers. 

Just glance through Morningstar’s lower-end Glassdoor reviews: However unreliable former employees’ ratings can be, several posts excoriate the firm for lacking diversity and decry race and gender-based “bias” in recent years. All the firms listed above have been accused of discrimination on various grounds; 2019 notably marks 30 years since Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, a landmark sex discrimination case of crucial importance to pending LGBTQ+ Title VII cases, all covered by Instinct earlier this year, no less.

In other words, all these client-obscuring, shadowy mega-firms deserve some combination of skepticism and scrutiny at all times, McKinsey included.

This is certainly the case with firms like McKinsey, which have worked “with authoritarian regimes and [taken] on other ethically complicated” work, as BuzzFeed’s Gomez put it.

The World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, where McKinsey’s New York office is based. / Photo credit Sebastiaan Stam (via Pexels).

Whether Asset or Liability, Mayor Pete Must Frankly Address McKinsey

While Mr. Buttigieg offered “gentle criticism” of McKinsey’s work in recent years, his responses have elided detail; he “offers little that isn’t already public,” framing the work in vague or resume-burnishing terms (presenting himself “as a ‘businessman,’” with bipartisan appeal).

For the moment, Buttigieg’s most-concrete description of his work is “math [and the] economics of energy and of stabilizing very tough places around the world [to] make sure there’s less violence there.”

Demands from media and the public to close the space between that description and his McKinsey-era posting at a “safe house in Iraq”—among other open issues—are only likely to grow more urgent.

Whether these mounting reports affect Mr. Buttigieg’s resilience as a candidate and his strong showings in early-state polls is uncertain, of course, but he needs to give some better accounting.

As Mr. Buttigieg positions himself as among the 2020 race’s frontrunners, he’ll need to do much more than wave his hands and deflect.

Above all, he needs to answer how he reconciles his prior work and a campaign platform antithetical to McKinsey pushing the outer bounds of Trump-era cruelty – something he can do without breaking an NDA.

(Sources: ProPublica/New York Times, BuzzFeed News, Popular Information)

What do you think?