DHS funding crisis means the agency will have to focus resources on border security, cargo clearance
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is about 12 hours away from a partial shutdown, with its budget caught in the middle of congressional infighting over immigration policy.
Officials at DHS sub-agency Customs and Border Protection on Thursday outlined how constrained funding would hamper import and export functions. Routine cargo will continue to be cleared through security procedures, but shipments involving possible trade enforcement violations could detained for an undetermined period and a host of other legal and compliance activities will come to a halt as administrative staff are sent home.
Last year, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill to fund the government through September, but Republicans only allowed DHS to be temporarily funded because they wanted to use the money as leverage to roll back President Obama’s new immigration policy once they secured control of both the House and Senate. Republican lawmakers, especially in the Tea-Party wing, want to strip out funding for Obama’s executive action to halt deportations of millions of undocumented workers and their families unless they are dangerous criminals. Senate Democrats, who have a filibuster-proof minority, are blocking efforts to scuttle the immigration policy.
Without new appropriations, a partial shutdown would ensue, with administrative workers furloughed and “front-line” personnel, like CBP inspectors, having to work without pay until a resolution is reached. More than 6,000 CBP personnel are scheduled to be furloughed.
Republicans in the Senate, worried about the message of the governing party crippling a major agency and putting people out of work, are prepared to decouple the issues and vote Friday on a straight-forward bill that doesn’t require any changes to Obama’s executive action. They don’t want a repeat of the partial federal shutdown in 2013 over a budget dispute, which most Americans blamed on Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, is having much greater difficulty controlling his caucus, with a vocal group of lawmakers insisting on defunding the White House’s amnesty policy. House leaders plan to vote Friday on funding DHS for three weeks to allow time for pursuing a compromise measure and for a lawsuit challenging Obama’s policies to work its way through federal court.
DHS officials have said a continuing resolution would still be damaging because it limits spending on needed technology, new initiatives and grants to local communities and first responders. Senate Democrats have threatened to block a House-Senate conference to reconcile the bills since Republicans don’t have the necessary 60 votes necessary under congressional rules.
In a teleconference, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, Todd Owen, the assistant commissioner of field operations, and Brenda Smith, assistant commissioner of international trade, updated industry associations and company representatives about the impact on cross-border trade. The following is a rundown of CBP functions that will be maintained or discontinued:
- CBP officers involved in core border security responsibilities and revenue collection will remain on duty, including agriculture specialists, import specialists and drawback specialists. Entries will be processed for clearance, barring any concerns over enforcement issues, and personnel will be available to answer queries from importers, brokers and others.
- Centers for Excellence and Expertise will continue to function with import and entry specialists processing entry summaries, but without other program officers available there may be a deterioration in responsiveness.
- Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism supply chain security specialists will be furloughed, so corporate validations that have been scheduled overseas will be canceled.
- Headquarters and District Field Office staff will be at a bare minimum. No staff will be available to coordinate any clearance issues with other government agencies.
- CBP personnel will not participate in conferences, educational seminars or other types of outreach to the trade community.
- No one will be available to take online tips of trade fraud through the E-Allegation system or to process requests for Jones Act waivers. During the harsh winter a year ago, the state of New Jersey unsuccessfully sought an exemption under the law so that an international vessel, instead of a domestic one, could quickly pick up a load of salt in Maine to alleviate a shortage of road salt.
- Trade compliance measurement exams and audits will be discontinued.
- CBP’s legal office will not issue advance rulings and other legal decisions, or make decisions on protests of violation notices.
- Broker licenses, national broker permits and ABI filer codes will not be issued.
- Client representatives who help resolve issues with filers automated systems will not report to work, so technical support will have to go through the Help Desk.
- The ACE Business Office will be closed, so interaction with industry partners on development issues will cease.
- Furloughs will not impact the May 1 mandatory manifest filing date in ACE because the programming is done. CBP remains on track to meet the Nov. 1 deadline for all import transactions to be electronically submitted to ACE. The agency is about four to six weeks ahead with its work flow, but will conduct a technical assessment after funding is restored to determine if there was any impact on the implementation date.
- An ACE software vendors conference scheduled for March 3-5 is up in the air. A decision is expected Friday afternoon and industry will be notified through an online message service.
- No work will be conducted to help integrate other agencies into the International Trade Data System, which will use ACE to streamline data collection and communication.
- Targeting, monitoring and auditing of intellectual property rights violations, trade agreements, textile fraud and Anti-Dumping Duty/Countervailing Duty violations will stop, although restraining orders or court-ordered injunctions related to ADD/CVD will be enforced.
- Processing of quotas may be limited. Some targeting personnel are exempt from the furlough and will produce quota hold reports and run commodity reports weekly, which tell field offices what quotas have been used up and what are available. Directors of field operations have been notified to release quota entries and process those summaries. Ports have been advised not to hold merchandise awaiting quota release. Quota holds will be reconciled by quota branch at headquarters once the furlough is lifted.
- Training of new CBP officers will cease and about 400 will be sent home from the training facility in Georgia. There is a concern that some candidates will stay home and pick up good private sector jobs from companies that realize CBP’s vetting process means candidates have strong skills and clean backgrounds.