Washington, D.C.—The most serious threat to a secure border for the nation is the severe impact of looming sequestration, the leader of the union representing tens of thousands of frontline security employees told a House subcommittee today.
“Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the ports of entry are key to achieving and maintaining a secure border,” said President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), “and the greatest threat to a secure border is sequestration.”
The NTEU leader made the remarks in testimony submitted to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
If Congress allows sequestration to go into effect this Friday as planned, CBP would have to reduce its budget by more than $754 million, most of which—more than $558 million —from its salary and expenses account, Kelley said.
As a result, she added, CBP plans to furlough employees for one day each pay period beginning in early to mid-April through September, an action that will result in a 10 percent pay cut. “These furloughs will exacerbate an already unsustainable shortage of inspection and enforcement personnel at international air, land and sea ports of entry,” Kelley said.
Along with the potential serious impact on security, reduced CBP staffing would make four to five hour wait times commonplace for travelers at ports of entry and cause the busiest ports across the nation to face gridlock at peak travel periods, she warned.
The NTEU president also warned of serious effects on the commercial traffic that is so vital to the nation’s economy. “There is no greater roadblock to legitimate trade and travel efficiency than the lack of sufficient staff at the ports of entry,” she said, noting that understaffing causes long delays in commercial traffic as cargo waits to enter U.S. commerce.
“More than 50 million Americans work for companies that engage in international trade,” she said. “If Congress is serious about job creation, then Congress should support enhancing U.S. trade and travel by mitigating wait times at the ports and enhancing trade enforcement by increasing CBP security and commercial operations staffing.”
In her submitted testimony President Kelley offered examples of the impacts of understaffing at ports in Florida, Texas and California.
Sequestration also would undermine the ability of CBP to collect vital revenue for the government; its trade facilitation mission results in the collection of more revenue for the treasury than any federal agency other than the Internal Revenue Service.
However, President Kelley emphasized, since CBP was created in March 2003, there has been no increase in trade enforcement and compliance personnel, with the result that trade-related revenue collected by CBP declined between 2005 and 2009 by some $2 billion, to $29 billion.
“In effect,” she told the subcommittee, “there has been a CBP trade staffing freeze at March 2003, levels, and as a result, CBP’s revenue function has suffered and duty and fee revenue collected has remained flat.”
Noting the title of the subcommittee’s hearing—‘What does a secure border look like?— the NTEU leader provided this answer: “Not one ravaged by the effects of the sequester.”
NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments, including 24,000 in CBP.