Washington, D.C.—It is increasingly clear that sequestration would have devastating effects on both the national security and economically-important trade functions of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—and could trigger furloughs of up to 14 days and possible reductions-in-force, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said today. NTEU represents the entire 24,000-employee CBP bargaining unit.
“Significant budget cuts for this agency pose real-world dangers for the range of critical CBP duties,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley, “and inevitably would have a ripple effect throughout government, since CBP is the second-largest generator of federal revenue, behind only the Internal Revenue Service.”
The NTEU leader’s position was underscored sharply today by a letter from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee. CBP is a key unit of DHS.
In her letter, Secretary Napolitano said that under sequestration, CBP would not be able to maintain current staffing levels as mandated by Congress. “Funding and staffing reductions will increase wait times at airports, affect security between land ports of entry, affect CBP’s ability to collect revenue owed to the federal government, and slow screening and entry programs for those traveling into the United States,” she wrote.
The secretary, who warned of furloughs of up to 14 days for “a significant portion of our frontline law enforcement personnel,” added: “We simply cannot absorb the additional reduction posed by sequestration without significantly negatively affecting frontline operations and our nation’s previous investment in the homeland security enterprise.”
“Congress must act immediately to put an end to this destructive policy,” said President Kelley. “Sequestration could have far-reaching impacts across every community in America. NTEU is urging Congress to stop the sequester now.”
Separately, President Kelley noted that the greatest roadblock to trade and travel efficiency is the lack of sufficient staff at the nation’s land, air and sea ports of entry. Understaffed ports, she said, lead to long delays in commercial lanes as cargo waits to enter the country and could hurt our country’s travel and tourism industry, which has only begun recovering from the recession.
In congressional testimony last year warning of the impact of inadequate staffing, she noted that one government projection is that by 2017, average wait times at ports of entry could rise to nearly one hour and forty minutes—a development that would cost the U.S. economy more than 54,000 jobs annually, along with $12 billion in economic output, $3 billion in wages and $1.2 billion in tax revenue. The cumulative loss in output due to border delays over the next decade, she said, is estimated by the Commerce Department to be $86 billion.
Moreover, sequestration could mean a significant loss of pay or even job loss for the dedicated and highly-trained officers and other frontline CBP personnel, the NTEU leader said. “This would be devastating for these employees, their families and the communities around the country that rely on them to keep us safe and to facilitate trade and travel.”
“Sequestration is the direct opposite of the policy we should be following,” Kelley said. NTEU is among the most highly-visible and vocal proponents of congressional action to head off sequestration, now scheduled for March 1.
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.