Statement on FY2024 CBP Budget Request
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
Chairman Murphy, Ranking Member Britt and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. As President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), I have the honor of leading a union that represents over 29,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists and trade enforcement specialists stationed at 328 air, sea, and land ports of entry across the United States and 16 Preclearance stations throughout the world.
CBP OFO personnel are responsible for border security at the ports of entry--including anti-terrorism, immigration, anti-smuggling, trade compliance, and agriculture protection. CBP OFO employees also facilitate lawful trade and travel at U.S. ports of entry that is critical to our nation’s economy.
As the second largest revenue-collecting source in the federal government, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 CBP OFO and Office of Trade collected approximately $93.8 billion in duties, taxes, and other fees, including $85.5 billion in duties, an increase of nearly 15 percent over the previous fiscal year’s duty collections.
CBP OFO also enforces nearly 500 U.S. laws and regulations and according to the CBP Office of Trade Economics Benefits Model for every dollar invested in trade facilitation and enforcement, the United States gains nearly $96 in economic benefits in terms of increased corporate profits, job growth, and government efficiencies. CBP estimates the combined benefit to producers, consumers, and government is over $12.5 billion.
The President included in its FY 2024 budget requests $22.1 million to hire 150 CBP Officers to serve at Southwest Border ports of entry. This funding is part of $535 million CBP request for border security technology at and between ports of entry, $40 million to combat fentanyl trafficking and disrupt transnational criminal organizations, and funding to hire an additional 460 processing assistants at CBP and ICE. The FY 2024 budget also requests annualization of the $23 million in CBP resilience programs and on-site clinician funding funded by the FY 2023 Omnibus.
CBP Staffing at the Ports of Entry: For years, NTEU has advocated for the hiring of thousands of new CBP Officers and hundreds of new Agriculture Specialists and non-uniformed trade operations personnel that are needed based on the agency’s own Workload Staffing Model, Agriculture Resource Allocation Model (AgRAM) and Resource Optimization Model for Trade Revenue (Trade ROM). These staffing models are dynamic and reflect the impact of the pandemic on CBP OFO staffing needs.
While NTEU appreciates Congress providing funding for 125 CBP Officer new hires for FY 2023 and the President’s FY 2024 request for funding for 150 CBP Officers, based on CBP’s most recent workload staffing models, CBP needs to hire at least 1,750 CBP Officers, 250 Agriculture Specialists and 100 non-uniformed Trade Specialists to address current staffing needs at the ports of entry.
Acknowledging the economic impact of the ongoing CBP Officer staffing shortage at the ports, NTEU works with a coalition of 50 port stakeholders, including Airports Council International-North America, American Association of Port Authorities, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Travel Association in support on increased funding for CBP OFO new hires to address increases in trade and travel volume at the ports-of-entry. In a letter in support of this effort last year, the coalition wrote that “[w]hile the volume of commerce crossing our borders has more than tripled in the past 25 years, CBP staffing has not kept pace with demand. Long wait times at our ports-of-entry lead to travel delays and uncertainty, which can increase supply-chain costs and cause passengers to miss their connections. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, border delays result in losses to output, wages, jobs, and tax revenue due to decreases in spending by companies, suppliers, and consumers.”
As important as CBP OFO’s role as an economic driver is, CBP OFO personnel are also on the frontline of illegal narcotics interdiction. In FY 2022, CBP seized nearly 15,000 pounds of fentanyl, nearly 2,000 pounds of heroin, 175,000 pounds of methamphetamine, and more than 70,000 pounds of cocaine and CBP is on track to seize as much, if not more, this year. At ports of entry alone, fentanyl seizures have increased more than 200 percent in the last two fiscal years and, with the more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl already seized to date in FY 2023, OFO is on track to surpass last fiscal year’s total seizures by the end of April. These seizures permanently removed these drugs from the illicit supply chain, kept them out of our communities, and denied drug trafficking organizations profits and critical operating capital.
Most illicit drugs, including fentanyl, enter the United States through our Southwest Border ports of entry. In fact, last fiscal year, nearly 66 percent of illicit drugs seized by CBP at the Southwest Border were seized at ports of entry. The drugs are concealed in privately owned vehicles, commercial vehicles, and even pedestrians. At CBP ports of entry alone, fentanyl seizures have increased more than 200 percent in the last two fiscal year and, with the more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl already seized to date in FY 2023, OFO is on track to surpass last fiscal year’s total seizures by the end of April.
Due to the ongoing CBP Officer staffing shortage at the ports, CBP again has found it necessary to solicit CBP Officers for temporary duty assignment (TDY) to Southwest Border (SWB) land ports of entry beginning in April 2022. This TDY has been renewed every 60 days and now has been going on for one year. Wave 7 will commence on April 16, 2023, with over 400 CBP Officers to be deployed to ports of entry within the San Diego, Tucson, El Paso, and Laredo Field Offices. These TDYs will be filled by CBP Officers currently assigned to air and seaport locations, exacerbating staffing shortages at those ports.
To help achieve funding to support CBP OFO’s dynamic economic expansion and drug interdiction missions, NTEU strongly supports the Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act, a bipartisan authorization bill introduced last Congress by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and John Cornyn (R-TX), that would increase the authorized number of CBP Officers by 600 annually to help the agency meet its current and future staffing needs as documented by CBP’s CBPO workload staffing model.
Staffing shortages that result in excessive overtime requirements and an increasing need for TDYs are additional stressors in the workplace that are impacting the mental health of CBP law enforcement officers. NTEU greatly appreciate $23 million added in FY 2022 and FY 2023 for CBP onsite mental health clinicians, employee resiliency and suicide prevention programs and strongly supports keeping this level of funding in FY 2024. According to the agency, 156 CBP employees died by suicide between 2007 and 2022. Last year, CBP saw the highest number of suicides at 15; and, as of March, CBP has lost 2 employees to suicide so far in 2023.
NTEU seeks the Committee’s support for the union to work collaboratively with CBP in effectively utilizing the $23 million appropriations to address the unique and prevalent behavioral health challenges within the Agency with a goal toward helping, and retaining employees with behavioral health challenges, that removes obstacles that prevent employees from seeking treatment; and provides meaningful support to employees struggling with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, family/marriage relationship problems, PTSD, substance abuse and sleep deprivation.
In addition to supporting suicide prevention programs, the $23 million increase will free up funding for other important resiliency programs, such as one that helps CBP employees with childcare expenses.
CBP Agriculture Specialist Staffing: Currently, there is a continuing shortage Agriculture Specialists nationwide according to CBP’s own data-driven and vetted Workload Staffing Model. In 2020, Congress approved P.L. 116-122, the Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act of 2019. The new law authorizes CBP to hire 240 CBP Agriculture Specialists, 200 CBP Agriculture Technicians and 20 Agriculture Canine Teams per year until the staffing shortage that threatens the U.S. agriculture sector is met. NTEU requests appropriations to fund the CBP agriculture quality inspection new hires authorized by P.L. 116-122.
CBP Trade Operations Staffing: In addition to safeguarding our nation’s borders and ports, CBP is tasked with regulating and facilitating international trade. CBP employees at the ports of entry are critical for protecting our nation’s economic growth and security and are the second largest source of revenue collection for the U.S. government. For every dollar invested in CBP trade personnel, $87 is returned to the U.S. economy, either through lowering the costs of trade, ensuring a level playing field for domestic industry or protecting innovative intellectual property. Since CBP was established in March 2003, however, CBP trade operations staffing has fallen below the statutory floor set forth in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and stipulated in the FY 2021 CBP Trade ROM. NTEU strongly supports appropriated funding in FY 2024 for at least 100 additional CBP non-uniformed, OFO and Office of Trade personnel.
Therefore, NTEU is asking the Committee to provide in direct appropriated funding for CBP “Operations and Support” in FY 2024 including $88 million to fund the hiring of at least 600 CBP Officers, and funding to hire 240 additional CBP Agriculture Specialists, 200 CBP Agriculture Technicians, 20 Agriculture Canine Teams as authorized by P.L. 116-122 and 100 non-uniformed trade enforcement specialists and associated operational support personnel.
User Fee Shortfalls: As you know, due to the pandemic’s continued disruption of fee generating international travel and commerce, user fee collections have fallen precipitously which has necessitated the need for emergency funding to prevent furloughing CBP OFO personnel at a time when international trade and travel volume returns to pre-pandemic levels. To address lingering user fee shortfall, NTEU requests that the Committee include in its FY 2024 DHS funding bill any additional appropriated funding needed to replace user fee shortfalls for CBP OFO salaries and expenses and take steps to mitigate future dependence on user fees to fund salaries and expenses of CBP OFO personnel.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this FY 2024 appropriations request for CBP Officer, Agriculture Specialist, Technicians, Canine teams, Trade Operations, and mission support new hires at the ports of entry.
NTEU greatly appreciates your efforts to continue building on CBP OFO staffing advances made in recent years, and we urge you to provide FY 2024 funding to replace any user fee shortfall to maintain the current number of CBP employees and to hire needed additional CBP OFO employees to adequately staff the nation’s ports of entry as our economy rebounds from the pandemic. NTEU also greatly appreciates and supports the Committee’s CBP suicide prevention and other resiliency program funding in FY 2022 and 2023 and urge that this $23 million funding level again be provided in the FY 2024 appropriations bill.