CBP honors Litman for career of service
By Eric Kulisch
Starting with this commentary, AmericanShipper.com begins a weekly online feature by Associate Editor Eric Kulisch. In 'Washington Notebook,' Kulisch will provide commentary, notes and news outside of the regular coverage he has provided for American Shipper since 2003. His area of coverage has ranged throughout the beltway and beyond, with special emphasis, customs regulations, air and inland freight and infrastructure. Kulisch's 'Washington Notebook' will appear every Monday at AmericanShipper.com.
Arthur Litman, a highly regarded leader in the customs brokerage industry, was honored last month by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin for being in the vanguard of developing the agency's new trade processing system, the Automated Commercial Environment.
The logistics industry veteran, who was a key advisor to U.S. Customs on import-export issues, retired three years ago as vice president of regulatory affairs at FedEx Trade Networks.
He began as a customs broker in the 1960s, eventually becoming a part owner of the Tower Group International, which was acquired by FedEx in 2000.
At CBP's 11th annual Trade Symposium, which was attended by about 800 people, Bersin presented Litman with a plaque and thanked him for his years of working with Customs to improve trade processes. It was the first time in memory that a Customs commissioner has ever used the event's keynote luncheon address to honor someone from the trade community. CBP has given out awards to industry representatives at Trade Support Network and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism meetings before, but those have been more understated affairs.
The ceremony was noteworthy too for the depth of praise Bersin bestowed on Litman, surpassing the generic platitudes often expressed at similar types of functions in Washington.
The full text of the commissioner's remarks follows:
|CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin honored broker industry veteran Art Litman at the Trade Symposium luncheon April 13.|
'Please continue having dessert because this is a particularly sweet moment. I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur Litman yesterday for the first time, although I'd heard about the legendary Arthur Litman. Virtually everyone in this room knows Art Litman. I've had a chance to sense the depth, and what so many of you have gotten to know over many years, the combination of qualities that make him arguably, so I've been told, and I can confirm, the most beloved, respected, admired individual in the world of customs brokerage over the last generation.
'It's no small accomplishment for a man whose achievements are rivaled only by his modesty. There are two types of people in the world my mother taught me early on: those who come in the room and say, 'Here I am,' and those who come in the room and say, 'There you are.'
'And Arthur is of the later kind. And for that reason has been able to accomplish as much as he has. Quiet, determined and operating on the basis of knowledge and skill.
'I did not know he's done all of this out of California. Born in San Francisco, he's made his life as a professional in Los Angeles. But from Los Angeles he's had an impact nationally on this industry, public and private, that is inestimable and hard to describe.
'Think about this series of accomplishments.
'He invented, along with a number of other people, COAC (Commercial Operations Advisory Committee) in 1988. He, together with many people in this room, conceived and executed the Trade Support Network. He has mentored virtually everybody in this room. There is no greater compliment to anyone that to have someone say, he mentored me.
'Thurgood Marshall said, when asked about how he came up, he said people talk about raising themselves by their own bootstraps. He said don't be deceived by that. There is not anybody in any profession anywhere who does not get a hand up at some point in his or her career from someone who has taken the time to teach, to mentor, to counsel, to advise.
'And I say to my younger colleagues here, that's an obligation that you have as you mature in the profession. Do not ever forget that obligation. And from what I've heard from people across this room Arthur Litman is the embodiment of that value, and a lesson and a legacy for all of us.
'He's also someone, for all of his gentleness, who has been an extraordinary change agent in this field.
'He described to me the brick bats and the criticism when he suggested to his colleagues in the customs brokerage occupation and profession that, in fact, technology was the wave of the future and that if customs brokers did not adapt to where the world was going technologically, the world would pass the industry by.
'And many in the industry thought that, 'By God, if we did not use our old Royal typewriters to type out the Customs forms and then race to deliver them to the port director that the economic basis and the professional basis for customs brokerage would disappear.
'For reasons I'll go into later, we're at a similar junction today, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to need the wisdom, sagacity, humility and courage of Arthur Litman to jump us up to the next phase.
'So, without more, I'd like to call Arthur up and provide him with a token — for men like this there are only tokens — of our appreciation and our esteem.
(Reading from the plaque) 'This is presented to Arthur Litman in appreciation for over 30 years of dedication and support to the United States Customs, now the United States Customs and Border Protection. Accomplishments include trade ambassador to ACE, co-chair of the Trade Support Network Entry Committee and long-term membership on COAC. Congratulations on your retirement — a line I would have left out before signing it. Because this is the kind of individual who never retires. And this is someone whose spirit and presence we need.
'So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you, having just crowned him — I give you King Arthur.'
Litman's career includes stints as a representative on the World Customs Organization's Private Sector Consultative Group, chairman of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America, president of the International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations and the Foreign Trade Association of Southern California.
NCBFAA, Trade Symposium notes
' Government officials insist they want the private sector to communicate on how to improve regulations or enforcement practices, but how much input do they really want?
At the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America's annual conference in Phoenix, April 4-6, Cynthia Whittenberg, director of trade facilitation and administration for Customs and Border Protection, made the following comment as she prepared to field questions from the audience about reworking rules governing the broker industry.
'I heard Ken (Bargteil) ask the group to jot down your ideas or questions you may have. What I'd like you to do is put them on big sheets of paper and then fold them into airplanes, and those that reach us we'll review. (Pause)
'Oops, sorry it didn't make it.'
No, Whittenberg isn't an indifferent bureaucrat. It was a tongue-in-cheek comment that actually drew a lot of laughter.
At CBP's 11th annual Trade Symposium in Washington one week later, CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin announced a goal of quadrupling corporate participation in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism over the next five to seven years.
That led C-TPAT Director Bradd Skinner to exclaim during a Town Hall session, 'When I heard the challenge about growing this program over the next few years, the thought immediately came to mind that I'm going to have to stock up on energy drinks and energy bars, because we certainly have a lot of work to expand the program.'
' 'Our products do not get better with age. We're not in the cheese and wine business.' — Ted Sherman, director of global trade service at Target, explaining at a Trade Symposium mini-session why the retailer's product mix depends on speed to market. ' Eric Kulisch