Authorities and Resources Needed to Protect and Secure the United States
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member McCaskill, distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony on “Authorities and Resources Needed to Protect and Secure the United States.” As President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), I have the honor of leading a union that represents over 25,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers and trade enforcement specialists stationed at 328 land, sea and air ports of entry across the United States and 16 Preclearance stations.
Any discussion of resources to protect and secure the homeland must include the hiring of new personnel at the ports of entry. CBP Office of Field Operations (OFO) is the largest component of CBP responsible for border security –including anti-terrorism, immigration, anti-smuggling, trade compliance, and agriculture protection—while simultaneously facilitating lawful trade and travel at U.S. ports of entry that are critical to our Nation’s economy. CBP OFO has a current need to hire 2,516 additional CBP Officers and 721 Agriculture Specialists to achieve the staffing target as stipulated in CBP’s own FY 2018 Workload Staff Model (WSM) and Agriculture Resource Allocation Model (AgRAM.) According to CBP’s Congressional Affairs Office, as of May 4, 2018, CBP OFO has 23,147 CBP Officers onboard at the ports of entry—1,328 short the authorized staffing level of 24,475.
Trade and travel volume continue to increase every year, but CBP OFO staffing is not keeping pace with this increase. New and expanded federal inspection facilities are being built at the air, sea and land ports, yet CBP OFO staffing is not expanding. For example, in June, a new federal inspection terminal will open at the San Diego Airport. Inspection volume will increase from 300 air passengers an hour to 1,000 air passengers an hour. Currently, there are a total of 53 frontline Officers split between the airport and seaport. CBP needs to hire and assign an additional 38 officers to the airport alone to staff this new inspection facility. At the San Ysidro land port, 12 new pedestrian lanes and 8 new vehicle lanes come on line in June. There are no new CBP Officers assigned to this port and beginning on April 1, 2018, 150 CBP Officers have been sent from other short-staffed ports to the seriously short-staffed ports of Nogales and San Ysidro for 90-day temporary duty assignments.
To address CBP OFO staffing shortages and to address the ever-increasing volume of trade through the ports of entry in the future, Ranking Member McCaskill and others recently introduced S. 2314, the Border and Port Security Act, stand-alone legislation that would authorize the hiring of 500 additional CBP Officers and additional OFO trade operations staff annually until the staffing gaps in CBP’s various Workload Staffing Models are met. NTEU strongly supports this CBP Officer and Agriculture Specialist-only staffing authorization bill and urges every member of Congress to support this bill.
NTEU also asks Committee members to request from the Senate Appropriations Committee up to $100 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 direct appropriations for the hiring of 500 CBP Officers, 100 CBP Agriculture Specialists, and additional needed non-uniformed Trade Operations and support staff.
The President’s FY 2019 budget request does support the hiring of new CBP Officers to meet the current staffing need of 2,516, but seeks to fund these new positions by increasing user fees. The President’s budget proposal only provides appropriated funding to hire 60 new CBP Officer positions at the National Targeting Center.
The President’s request seeks no appropriated funding to address the current CBP Officer staffing shortage of 2,516 additional CBP Officers as stipulated by CBP’s own FY 2018 WSM or to fund the additional 721 CBP Agriculture Specialists as stipulated by CBP’s own FY 2108 AgRAM.
User Fees: As in the past, the Administration’s budget proposes significant realignment of user fees collected by CBP. Currently, 33 percent of a CBP Officer’s compensation is funded with a combination of user fees, reimbursable service agreements, and trust funds. The FY 2019 budget proposes to reduce OFO appropriated funding by realigning and redirecting user fees, including redirecting the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) fee that would require a statutory change. The FY 2019 budget proposal would redirect approximately $160 million in ESTA fees from Brand USA to CBP. Rather than redirecting the ESTA fees to fund the additional 2,516 CBP Officer new hires needed to fully staff CBP Officer positions in FY 2019 and beyond, as stipulated by CBP’s WSM, the budget would in fact reduce CBP’s appropriated funding by $160 million. Therefore, while the budget proposes to increase the number of CBP Officer positions funded by ESTA user fees by 1,093, it decreases appropriated funding by $160 million, and reduces the number of CBP Officer positions funded by appropriations by 1,093 positions.
Once again, the President’s budget includes CBP Officer staffing numbers that are dependent on Congress first enacting changes to statutes that determine the amounts and disbursement of these user fee collections. To accomplish the ESTA fee change in the President’s budget, Congress must amend the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (P.L. 111–145). The President’s request also proposes fee increases to the Immigration and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) user fees, not a direct up-front appropriation, to fund CBP Officer new hires as stipulated by the WSM. However, Immigration and COBRA user fees cannot be increased without Congress first enacting legislation. A proposal to increase user fees has been part of the Administration’s annual budget submission since FY 2014 to fund the hiring of new CBP Officers.
These user fee increase proposals are again in the FY 2019 budget request, even though the Committees with jurisdiction have never shown any interest or even held a hearing to discuss this long-standing legislative proposal and the Administration has not pressed upon these Committee Chairs to do so.
Opioid Interdiction: CBP OFO is the premier DHS component tasked with stemming the nation’s opioid epidemic--a crisis that is getting worse. In a report released on May 10, 2019, by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Minority titled “Combatting the Opioid Epidemic: Intercepting Illicit Opioids at Ports of Entry”, CBP Officers at the ports of entry were found to “play a key role in stopping opioids and that CBP has significant shortages of Port Officers that may be compromising efforts to seize additional opioids before they can reach U.S. communities.”
The smuggling of fentanyl and other opioids has increased markedly. According to the report, “between 2013 and 2017, approximately 25,405 pounds, or 88% of all opioids seized by CBP, were seized at ports of entry. The amount of fentanyl seized at the ports of entry increased by 159% from 459 pounds in 2016 to 1,189 pounds in 2017.”
The scourge of synthetic opioid addiction is felt in every state and is a threat to the nation’s economic security and well-being. The majority of fentanyl is manufactured in other countries such as China, and is smuggled primarily through the ports of entry along the southwest border and through international mail and express consignment carrier facilities (e.g. FedEx and UPS).
CBP Officers are, “in the majority of cases, the last line of defense in preventing illicit opioids from entering the United States…CBP’s current shortage of over 4,000 Port Officers is directly influencing operations and staffing these positions could increase CBP’s ability to interdict opioids.” According to CBP, over the last three years, there were 181 CBP employees assigned to the five Postal Service International Service Centers and 208 CBP employees assigned to the Private Express Carrier Facilities.
According to the report, on average, CBP Officers only inspect 100 of the 1.3 million inbound international packages that arrive daily by international mail. In 2016, 65 million packages arrive via express carriers, which are required by law to provide advanced electronic data. However, this data can be incomplete. “For example, from 2014 and 2016, CBP issued over five thousand penalties for incomplete manifest information and assessed over $26 million in fines. However, express shippers successfully negotiated penalties down to just over $4 million.”
In the past year, the FedEx hub in Memphis processed 38 million imports and 48 million exports--equaling 86 million in total package volume. There are approximately 24 CBP Officers in total screening all 86 million shipments, and on average, about 15 CBP Officers are working the main overnight FedEx “sort” shift. Considering the volume at the FedEx hub, NTEU has been told that the port requires a minimum of 60 CBP Officers to facilitate the flow of legitimate freight and ensure successful interdiction of these synthetic chemicals. NTEU’s CBP OFO appropriation request supports both the critical need at the air, sea and land ports of entry, but also at international postal and express consignment hubs.
Lastly, the nation’s busiest land port of entry San Diego, along with the Tucson area land ports, account for “57% of all opioids seized by ports of entry, including 75% of all fentanyl and 61% of all heroin seized.” These two land ports are also the most critically understaffed. According to CBP, “these long-term staffing shortfalls continue to stretch the limits of operational, enforcement and training capabilities at the ports of entry.” To address these shortfalls, CBP solicits non-supervisory Officers to serve in Temporary Duty (TDY) assignments. Since November 1, 2015 between 80 and 200 CBP Officers per quarter have been TDYed to the San Diego and Tucson land ports. The continuing lack of CBP Officer staffing at these ports of entry results in forced overtime shifts, multiple deployments away from home, and low morale.
Agriculture Specialist Staffing: Despite CBP’s release of its risk-based AgRAM that documents an ongoing shortage of CBP Agriculture Specialists--by 721--at the ports of entry, the budget request includes no direct appropriation to hire these critical positions needed to fulfill CBP’s agriculture quarantine inspection (AQI) mission of pest exclusion and safeguarding U.S. agriculture and natural resources from the risks associated with the entry, establishment or spread of animal, plant pests and pathogens. NTEU’s appropriations request includes a direct appropriation to begin to hire the 721 Agriculture Specialists as stipulated in their FY 2018 AgRAM.
CBP Trade Operations Staffing: CBP has a dual mission of safeguarding our nation’s borders and ports as well as regulating and facilitating international trade. CBP employees at the ports of entry are the second largest source of revenue collection for the U.S. government. In 2017, CBP processed more than $2 trillion in imports and collected approximately $40 billion in duties, taxes, and other fees. Since CBP was established in March 2003, however, there has been no increase in non-uniformed CBP trade enforcement and compliance personnel even though inbound trade volume grew by more than 24 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2014. Additionally, CBP trade operations staffing has fallen below the statutory floor set forth in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and stipulated in the FY 2017 CBP Resource Optimization Model for Trade Positions. NTEU strongly supports the funding through direct appropriations of 140 additional positions at the CBP Office of Trade to support implementation of Trade Enhancement and Facilitation Act (P.L. 114-125) requirements.
Hiring Contract: A funding proposal of concern to NTEU is a $297 million contract that CBP recently awarded to Accenture Federal Services “to manage the full life cycle of the hiring process from job posting to processing” of 7, 500 CBP Border Patrol, Air and Marine, and OFO new hires. NTEU has seen reports that the 5-year contract cost is approximately $39,600 per hire—nearly the same as the starting salary of a CBP Officer. NTEU strongly believes that these federal funds would be better spent actually hiring new CBP employees using CBP’s in-house human resources department rather than in contracting out to a private sector consultant “to augment our internal hiring capabilities.”
The best recruiters are likely current CBP Officers. Unfortunately, morale continues to suffer because of staffing shortages and a threatened pay freeze, and the Administration’s proposed cuts to retirement, health care, and workers’ compensation programs. In addition to being overworked due to excessive overtime requirements, temporary duty assignments are a major drag on employees, especially those with families. Based on their experiences, many Officers are reluctant to encourage their family members or friends to seek employment with CBP. I have suggested to CBP leadership that they look at why this is the case.
NTEU strongly believes that addressing OFO hiring shortages by funding needed new CBP Officer and Agriculture Specialist to fill the FY 2018 staffing gap will do more to improve morale and encourage peer-to-peer recruitment than funding a private contractor to help recruit and hire new CBP employees.
Increasing CBP Officer staffing at the ports-of-entry is an economic driver for the U.S. economy. According to the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), “every day 1.1 million people and $5.9 billion in goods legally enter and exit through the ports of entry” and finds that border delays cost the U.S. economy upwards of $5 billion each year. CBP estimates that the annual hiring of an additional 500 CBP Officers at the ports of entry would increase yearly economic activity by $1 billion and result in an additional 16,600 jobs per year to the U.S. economy.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement on the CBP OFO resources needed to secure and protect the U.S. on behalf of the men and women represented by NTEU at the nation’s ports of entry. NTEU asks that the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members seek up to $100 million from the Senate Appropriations Committee for direct appropriated funding for new CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists and support staff to build on the CBP OFO staffing advances made in the FY 2018 Omnibus measure.