U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday it has authority under its fiscal year 2014 appropriation to hire an additional 2,000 officers to process cargo and travelers at land, air and sea ports of entry. The additional staff will help reduce wait times.
CBP can hire 700 officers in the current fiscal year that runs through Sept. 30 and another 1,300 in fiscal year 2015, Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said in March at CBP’s Trade Symposium in Washington.
President Obama’s 2015 budget request seeks approval to hire an additional 2,000 officers, he said.
CBP is allocating the additional officers to 44 ports across the country based on its Workload Staffing Model, which is independently validated and data-driven to illustrate to Congress where the agency’s needs lie.
The staffing is needed, agency and industry officials say, as CBP’s mission expands and trade and travel volumes grow.
The Department of Commerce estimates the rate of travel into the United States will increase 3.4 to 4.3 percent annually in the coming years, representing an additional 17 million visitors compared to 2012 numbers.
CBP will also process more cargo as container imports grow about 3.5 percent per year.
There is no money at the moment for hiring import specialists, even though members of the trade community complain it can take two years to resolve a petition filed to protest a penalty issued for non-compliance with requirements of the import entry.
Winkowski said CBP needs to first evaluate the workflow once the new Centers of Excellence and Expertise, which are designed to centralize and improve customs processing post-cargo release, are operating at full speed and then develop a workload staffing model as it did for inspectors to show where staffing needs exist.
“Research has shown that for every 33 additional CBP officers, the U.S. can potentially gain over 1,000 jobs. These measures are a significant down payment and a wise investment in our airports, seaports and land border crossings that will pay dividends for the nation’s economy,” new Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and our stakeholders to implement additional investments that will allow us to support growing volumes of trade and travel that are vital to our economic prosperity.”
CBP’s staffing strategy includes re-examining all of its processes to find more efficient ways of operating — using mobile inspection technologies and better business practices like self-serve kiosks at airports, trusted traveler/trader programs, automating paper forms and pre-departure targeting — and reinvesting the savings for frontline operations.
The third part of the strategy is finding alternative sources of funding through public-private partnerships.
CBP announced Monday that it will accept applications through the end of April for public-private sector organizations that want to pay for extra cargo and traveler services on their own. Parties wishing to enter into a Reimbursible Services Agreement should estimate, for example, that a full-time CBP officer costs on average about $118,000 per year.
Last year, CBP finalized agreements with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport; the city of El Paso, Texas; the South Texas Assets Consortium; the city of Houston Airport System; and Miami-Dade County under which the local entities can pay overtime for Customs to operate longer hours or add manpower during regular shifts.
The authority for local governments to reimburse CBP was included in the omnibus appropriations bill enacted in the spring of 2013 to fund the government through the end of that fiscal year. CBP had asked Congress to remove restrictions on its ability to receive outside funding from public-private sector organizations for border services. Reimbursements under the five-year pilot program are only for costs incurred above and beyond any user fees collected in association with the service provided to avoid double payment.
Customs also has authority for the first time this fiscal year to accept donations from outside parties for infrastructure enhancements at ports of entry, Susan Mitchell, the acting assistant commissioner of field operations, said at the Trade Symposium.
CBP has done a good job of demonstrating to Capitol Hill that “we are a good investment,” Winkowski told industry members at the conference.