NTEU Testimony on FY 2023 Budget request for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection



Chairman Roybal-Allard, Ranking Member Fleischmann, 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.

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 (WSM), 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. Based on CBP’s most recent staffing models, CBP needs to hire at least 900 CBP Officers, 240 Agriculture Specialists and 100 non-uniformed Trade Specialists. NTEU expects these numbers to increase as the economy recovers.

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 funding agreement did not include funding to increase CBP staffing at the ports of entry. However, Congress included $650 million to compensate for pandemic related reduction in customs and immigration user fee revenue that funds up to 8,000 CBP Officer positions. This FY 2022 funding was necessary to maintain the current level of CBP OFO staffing and avoid furloughs. Unfortunately, in his FY 2023 budget request, the President included funding for only 50 CBP Officer new hires--specifically to combat forced labor--far short of what is needed to address the ongoing CBP Officer staffing gap according to CBP’s own WSM. Ideally, NTEU requests that the Committee provide funding for CBP OFO new hires to the levels required by the CBP’s dynamic workplace staffing models for CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists and Trade Specialists in its FY 2023 DHS appropriations bill. Ensuring CBP staffing is an economic driver for the U.S. economy and additional CBP Officers would not only reduce wait times at ports of entry, but also provide new economic opportunities across the United States.

Acknowledging the economic impact of the ongoing CBP Officer staffing shortage at the ports, NTEU works with a coalition of 24 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 the increases in trade and travel volume at the ports-of-entry as the current international travel restrictions and public health orders are lifted. In a letter in support of this effort, 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.”

Furthermore, due to the ongoing CBP Officer staffing shortage at the ports, CBP again finds it necessary to solicit CBP Officers for temporary duty assignment (TDY) to Southwest border land ports of entry beginning in April 2022. The TDY is necessary to support the workload and operational challenges anticipated with the ending of the Title 42 public health order. These TDYs will be filled by CBP Officers currently assigned to air and seaport locations.

Staffing shortages that result in excessive overtime requirements and an increasing need for TDYs are additional stressors in the workplace effecting the mental health of CBP law enforcement officers. NTEU greatly appreciate $23 million added in FY 2022 for CBP onsite mental health clinicians, employee resiliency and suicide prevention programs and strongly supports keeping this level of funding in FY 2023. According to the agency, 134 employees died by suicide between 2007 and 2020. In 2021, there were 11 suicide deaths and 8 suicide deaths since the start of 2022 at CBP. 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. Last year, 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’s appropriations request includes funding for 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 2023 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 2023 to fund the hiring of at least 600 CBP Officers, 240 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 is beginning to return to pre- pandemic levels. To address the user fee shortfall, we were pleased that Congress provided millions in FY 2021 and FY 2022 to maintain current staffing of CBP Officers. NTEU requests that the Committee include in its FY 2023 DHS funding bill any additional appropriated funding needed to replace user fee shortfalls for CBP OFO salaries and expenses and to mitigate dependence on user fees to fund salaries and expenses of CBP OFO personnel.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this FY 2023 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 2023 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 urge that this $23 million funding level again be provided in the FY 2023 appropriations bill.