Statement on CBP staffing shortages to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee



Chairwoman Torres Small, Ranking Member Crenshaw, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record. As President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), I have the honor of leading a union that represents over 27,000 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers, Agriculture Specialists and trade enforcement personnel stationed at 328 land, sea and air ports of entry across the United States (U.S.) and 16 Preclearance stations in Ireland, the Caribbean, Canada and United Arab Emirates airports. CBP’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) pursues a dual mission of safeguarding American ports, by protecting the public from dangerous people and materials, while enhancing the nation’s global and economic competitiveness by enabling legitimate trade and travel. CBP OFO employees are responsible for border security, including anti-terrorism, immigration, anti-smuggling, trade compliance, and agriculture protection at U.S. ports of entry.

CBP OFO employees at the ports of entry are the second largest source of revenue collection for the U.S. government. In 2018, CBP processed more than $2.8 trillion in imports and collected approximately $44 billion in duties, taxes, and other fees. Their role of facilitating legal trade and travel is a significant economic driver for private sector jobs and economic growth.

According to CBP, for every 1,000 CBP officers hired there is an increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2 billion; $642 million in opportunity costs are saved (the amount of time that a traveler could be using for purposes other than waiting in line, such as working or enjoying leisure activities); and 33,148 annual jobs are added.

In addition, according to the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), the volume of commerce crossing our borders has more than tripled in the past 25 years. Long wait times lead to delays and travel time uncertainty, which can increase supply chain and transportation costs. According to the 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. JEC research finds border delays cost the U.S. economy between $90 million and $5.8 billion each year.

Unfortunately, according to CBP onboard staffing data, there is a shortage of approximately 2,700 CBP Officers at the ports of entry. NTEU was pleased that the final FY 2019 Omnibus agreement provided $58.7 million in funding to hire 600 new CBP Officers. Yet, The President’s FY 2020 budget requests only $28 million to fund the hiring of 171 new Customs and Border Protection Officers, 91 Mission and Operational Support positions, and five Agriculture Specialists. The Senate Appropriations Committee bill is equally disappointing in that it provides only $18.2 billion for 119 CBP Officer new hires, but no funding to address the CBP Agriculture Specialists shortage at the ports of entry.

On the other hand, the House bill goes far to address the staffing shortages at CBP by providing $151 million for 1,846 CBP new positions at the ports of entry, as follows:

o $91 million for 1,200 CBP Officers;
o $30.7 million for 406 mission support personnel; and
o $29.8 million for 240 Agriculture Specialists.

This significant difference in FY 2020 CBP funding priorities between the House and Senate versions of the bill will need to be resolved before the expected expiration of the Continuing Resolution on December 20. NTEU strongly supports the funding level for CBP employees at the ports of entry in the House version of the DHS funding bill and urges Congress to maintain these numbers in the final FY 2020 DHS funding agreement.

Santa Teresa Port of Entry

The Santa Teresa port of entry has three maximum commercial vehicle lanes, four maximum passenger vehicle lanes, and two pedestrian lanes and is open every day from 6:00 am to 12:00 midnight. It is NTEU’s understanding that the Port of Santa Teresa is experiencing a serious staffing shortage. Due to lack of CBP Officer staffing, only two of the four passenger vehicle lanes are usually open on weekdays, but the port frequently opens 3 to 4 passenger vehicle lanes during peak times and on weekends regardless of staffing. As a result, Officers are being ordered to work double shifts on a daily basis and they’re even pulling Officers from the K-9 units to compensate for the lack of staffing.

It is estimated that to be adequately staffed as an 18-hour Port, Santa Teresa port of entry would need 10 to15 more Officers assigned. In order to expand the port’s operating hours to 24 hours a day, the port would need to add 20 to 25 additional Officers.

CBP Officer Overtime

Due to the ongoing current staffing shortage of 2,700 CBP Officers, CBP Officers nationwide are working excessive overtime to maintain basic port staffing. Currently, CBP Officer overtime pay is entirely funded through user fees and is statutorily capped at $45,000 per year. All CBP Officers are aware that overtime assignments are an aspect of their jobs.

However, long periods of overtime hours can severely disrupt an officer’s family life, morale and ultimately their job performance protecting our nation.

Because CBP Officers can be required to regularly work overtime, many individual Officers hit the overtime cap very early in the fiscal year. This leaves no overtime funding available for peak season travel, resulting in critical staffing shortages in the third and fourth quarter of the fiscal year that usually coincides with holiday travel at the ports.

To address this issue, at many ports, CBP has granted overtime cap exemptions to over one-half of the workforce to allow managers to assign overtime to Officers that have already reached the statutory overtime cap, but cap waivers only force CBP Officers already working long daily shifts to continue working these shifts for more days. Officers are required to come in hours before their regular shifts, to stay an indeterminate number of hours after their shifts (on the same day) and are often compelled to come in for more overtime hours on their regular days off. Involuntary overtime resulting in 12 to 16-hour shifts, day after day, for months on end significantly disrupts CBP Officers’ family life and erodes morale. As NTEU has repeatedly stated, this is not a long-term solution for staffing shortages at the ports and has gone on for far too long.

Temporary Duty Assignments at Southwest Land Ports of Entry

Due to CBP’s ongoing staffing shortage, since 2015, CBP has been diverting hundreds of CBP Officers from other air, sea and land ports to severely short-staffed Southwest land ports for Temporary Duty Assignments (TDYs). CBP recently ended CBP Officer TDYs to Border Patrol sectors across the southwest border. From May through September 2019, CBP deployed a total of 731 CBP Officers to designated Border Patrol Sectors. In this latest deployment, 245 Officers were sent from the SW Border Field Offices with the remaining 486 officers coming from the other Field Offices.

According to a newly-released study, “The Economic Costs of the U.S.–Mexico Slowdown,” this most recent TDY has resulted in a significant slowdown at the US-Mexico border leading to substantial economic harms. Millions of trucks carry goods across the border every year and delays at land ports cause cascading logistical problems. The current slowing on the US-Mexico border is reducing efficiency and costing the US economy billions in output and hundreds of thousands of jobs. If the diversion of CBP Officers from the Southwest border international land ports continues, the state of Texas alone could lose more than $32 billion in gross domestic product in just over three months. If there is a one-third reduction in trade between the U.S. and Mexico over a three-month period, the cost to the US economy would be over “$69 billion in gross product and 620,236 job-years (when multiplier effects are considered). Almost half of these losses occur in Texas.”

NTEU urges Congress to require CBP to allocate personnel and resources appropriately to ensure timely processing of people at ports of entry and better manage the changing demographic flows at our southern border. To end all these TDYs, CBP must fill existing CBP Officer vacancies and Congress must fund the hiring of the additional CBP Officers called for in CBP’s own Workload Staffing Model. Without addressing the 2,700 CBP Officer shortfall, allocating adequate staffing at all ports will remain a challenge.

Opioid Interdiction

CBP OFO is the premier component at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tasked with stemming the nation’s opioid epidemic--a crisis that is getting worse. According to a May 2018 report released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Minority titled Combatting the Opioid Epidemic: Intercepting Illicit Opioids at Ports of Entry, “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.”

On January 26, 2019, CBP OFO made their biggest fentanyl seizure ever, capturing nearly 254 pounds of the deadly synthetic opioid at the Nogales port of entry. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose. From the January 26 seizure alone, it is estimated that CBP Officers seized enough fentanyl to kill 57 million people. That’s more than the combined population of the states of Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. The street value of the seized fentanyl was over $102 million. CBP Officers also seized an additional 2.2 pounds of fentanyl pills and a large cache of methamphetamine.

In most cases, fentanyl is manufactured in other countries such as China and then smuggled through the ports of entry along the southwest border and through international mail and Private Express Carrier Facilities, e.g. FedEx and UPS. Over the past five years, CBP has seen a nearly 50 percent increase in express consignment shipments and a 200 percent increase in international mail shipments. Yet, according to CBP, over the last three years, there were only 181 CBP employees assigned to the five Postal Service International Service Centers and 208 CBP employees assigned to the Private Express Carrier Facilities. NTEU is encouraged to see that CBP has started to increase staffing at these facilities over the past year and supports FY 2020 funding levels that would further increase CBP staff at these facilities.

Noting the positive impact of hiring additional CBP Officers, it is troubling that the President’s 2017 Border Security Executive Order and his subsequent budget requests fail to fund a major increase in critically needed CBP officer new hires. In 2017, CBP Officers at the ports of entry recorded over 216,370 apprehensions and seized over 444,000 pounds of illegal drugs, and over $96 million in illicit currency, while processing over 390 million travelers and $2.2 trillion in imports through the ports. This is why, in addition to supporting additional funding for staffing, NTEU strongly supports S. 1004, the Safeguarding American Ports Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Peters and Cornyn. S. 1004 authorizes the hiring of 600 CBP Officers and requisite support staff to each year until the staffing gap in CBP’s Workload Staffing Model is met. NTEU urges the House to introduce and enact a companion CBP Officer staffing authorization bill.

Agriculture Specialist Staffing Authorization

The U.S. agriculture sector is a crucial component of the American economy, generating over $1 trillion in annual economic activity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foreign pests and diseases cost the American economy tens of billions of dollars annually. CBP employees perform critically important agricultural inspections every day at our nation’s ports of entry. These Agricultural Specialists play a vital role in both trade and travel safety and prevent the introduction of harmful exotic plant pests and foreign animal diseases, and potential ag/bioterrorism into the United States. For years, NTEU has championed the CBP Agriculture Specialists’ Agriculture Quality Inspection (AQI) mission within the agency and fought for increased staffing to fulfill that mission. Unfortunately, our ports of entry are currently understaffed by 721 Agricultural Specialist positions as determined by CBP’s own Agriculture Specialist Resource Allocation Model.

To address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect our food supply and agricultural industries at the border, legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. S. 2107 and H.R. 4482, the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, would ensure the safe and secure trade of agricultural goods across our nation’s borders by authorizing the annual hiring of 240 Agricultural Specialists and 200 Agricultural Technicians a year until the workforce shortage is filled. These bills also authorize the training and assignment of 20 new canine teams a year, which have proven valuable in detecting illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that may have otherwise been missed in initial inspections. Finally, the bills authorize supplemental appropriations each year to pay for the activities of the Agriculture Specialists, technicians and canine teams.

S. 2107 was recently approved by the full Senate and its companion bill, H.R. 4482, is awaiting House action. Because of CBP’s mission to protect the nation’s agriculture from pests and disease, NTEU urges the Committee to quickly consider and approve this important legislation.

CBP Funding Sources

In addition to annual appropriations, CBP collects Customs User Fees (CUFs), including those under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), to recover certain costs incurred for processing air and sea passengers and various private and commercial land, sea, air, and rail carriers and shipments. The source of these user fees are commercial vessels, commercial vehicles, rail cars, private aircraft, private vessels, air passengers, sea passengers, cruise vessel passengers, dutiable mail, customs brokers and barge/bulk carriers.

COBRA fees are deposited into the Customs User Fee Account and are designated by statute to pay for services provided to the user, such as 100% of inspectional overtime for passenger and commercial vehicle inspection during overtime shift hours. Of the 24,576 CBP Officers currently funded, Customs User Fees (CUFs) fund 3,825 full-time equivalent (FTEs) CBP Officers. Further, Immigration Inspection User Fees (IUF) fund 4,179 CBPO FTEs. In total, CUF and IUF user fees fund 8,004 CBPO FTEs or one third of the entire CBP workforce at the ports of entry.

The President’s FY 2020 budget again proposes user fee increases, however, these user fees cannot be increased without Congress first enacting legislation. Legislative proposals to increase user fees have been part of the Administration’s annual budget submission since FY 2014, but the Committees with jurisdiction have not acted on these long-standing legislative proposals.
The FY 2020 budget request also proposes to redirect approximately $160 million in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) fees from Brand USA to CBP. This change would require Congress to amend the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (P.L. 111–145). If Congress does not enact legislation to transfer Brand USA fee authority to CBP by FY 2020, the Administration’s ESTA proposal would create a $160 million shortfall in CBP’s operating budget. NTEU supports legislation redirecting ESTA fees to CBP but urges Congress to ensure that this increase in fee revenue to hire new CBP Officers does not offset appropriated funding levels, but instead augments this funding.

NTEU also strongly opposes the diversion of CUFs. Any increases to the CUF Account should be properly used for much-needed CBP staffing and not diverted to unrelated projects.

Unfortunately, while section 52202 of the FAST Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94) indexed CUFs to inflation, it diverted this funding from CBP to pay for unrelated infrastructure projects. Indexing COBRA CUFs to inflation provides $1.4 billion in additional funding over ten years. However, diverting these funds has cost CBP $140 million per year in funding that could have been used to hire over 900 new CBP Officers per year since the FAST Act went into effect.

These new hires would have significantly alleviated the current CBP Officer staffing shortage.

Finally, in order to find alternative sources of funding to address serious staffing shortages, CBP received authorization for and has entered into Reimbursable Service Agreements (RSAs) with the private sector, as well as with state and local governmental entities. These stakeholders, who are already paying CUFs and IUFs for CBP OFO employee positions and overtime, reimburse CBP for additional inspection services, including overtime pay and the hiring of new CBP Officer and Agriculture Specialist personnel that in the past have been paid for entirely by user fees or appropriated funding. According to CBP, since the program began in 2013, CBP has entered into agreements with over 149 stakeholders covering 111 U.S. ports of entry, providing more than 467,000 additional processing hours for incoming commercial and cargo traffic.

NTEU believes that the RSA program is a band aid approach and cannot replace the need for Congress to either appropriate new funding or authorize an increase in customs and immigration user fees to adequately address CBP staffing needs at the ports. RSAs simply cannot replace the need for an increase in CBP appropriated or user fee funding—and make CBP a “pay to play” agency. NTEU also remains concerned with CBP’s new Preclearance expansion program that also relies heavily on “pay to play.” Further, NTEU believes that the use of RSAs to fund CBP staffing shortages raises significant equity issues between larger and/or wealthier ports and smaller ports.

NTEU Recommendations

To address CBP’s workforce challenges at the Santa Teresa port of entry and ports of entry nationwide, it is clearly in the nation’s economic and security interest for Congress to authorize and fund a significant increase in the number of CBP Officers, CBP Agriculture Specialists, and other CBP employees.
In order to achieve the long-term goal of securing the proper staffing at CBP and end disruptive TDYs and excessive involuntary overtime shifts, NTEU recommends that Congress take the following actions:

• Support FY 2020 funding for 1,200 CBP Officer, 240 Agriculture Specialist and additional mission support new hires;
• Approve H.R. 4482 to authorize the funding of CBP Agriculture Specialist new hires up to the number specified in CBP’s own Agriculture Specialist Resource Allocation Model; and
• Introduce and enact legislation to authorize the funding of CBP Officer new hires up to the number specified in CBP’s own CBP Officer Workload Staffing Model.

Congress should also redirect the increase in customs user fees in the FAST Act from offsetting transportation spending to its original purpose of providing funding for CBP Officer staffing and overtime and oppose any legislation to divert additional fees collected to other uses or projects.

NTEU is not alone in seeking increased funding to hire new CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialist at the ports. A diverse group of business, industry and union leaders have joined forces in support of legislation and funding to hire more Customs and Border Protection personnel and alleviate staffing shortages at the nation’s ports of entry. The coalition – which includes leading voices from various shipping, tourism, travel, trade, law enforcement, and employee groups – sent the attached letter to House and Senate appropriators urging them to include funding for new 1,200 CBP officers in the final Fiscal Year 2020 Homeland Security Appropriations Act (see attached).

Thank you for the opportunity to submit NTEU’s statement for the record.