Washington, D.C. – The majority of illicit opioids entering the U.S. come through the ports of entry where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is severely short-staffed, according to a new congressional report released today.
The study from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee found that from 2013-17, 88 percent of all opioids seized by CBP were seized at the ports of entry. Over those five years, CBP personnel at the air, sea and land ports interdicted 25,405 pounds of these dangerous drugs, but more could be done.
“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,” the report states.
Opioid-related overdoses were responsible for 116 deaths each day in 2016, the report notes, adding that fentanyl—a synthetic opioid—is extremely potent and as little as two milligrams can be a lethal dose.
The investigation was conducted by the Democratic staff of the committee and the findings were released by Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the top Democrat on the panel.
NTEU, which represents about 25,000 CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists and Trade Enforcement personnel, has testified repeatedly about the staffing shortages at 328 ports and 16 preclearance stations. The new report provides further evidence that the staffing crisis is harmful to our nation’s safety and security.
“This groundbreaking report from Senator McCaskill doesn’t just identify the problem, she also has a solution,” Reardon said. “Adequately staffing our ports of entry with law enforcement personnel professionally trained to interdict illegal drug shipments is the fastest way to stem the deadly opioid tide into our communities.”
NTEU in January endorsed McCaskill’s legislation, the Border and Port Security Act, which would authorize the hiring of 500 new CBP Officers and support staff every year until the agency is fully staffed.
According to the report, CBP currently needs about 4,000 additional CBPOs to adequately staff the ports of entry. The lack of staffing causes forced overtime shifts, multiple deployments away from home and low morale.
Other key findings from the report include:
- The amount of fentanyl seized by CBP more than doubled in one year, to 1,370 pounds in 2017, and 85 percent of it was caught at the ports of entry.
- The staffing shortages in the southwestern ports are especially problematic because ports in the areas of San Diego and Tucson accounted for 57 percent of all opioid seizures by CBP in 2016-17.
“Port Officers are, in the majority of cases, the last line of defense in preventing illicit opioids from entering the United States,” the report states.
Reardon has previously testified to Congress about the role that CBP plays in fighting the opioid epidemic, including stopping international shipments. By increasing staffing levels at international mail and express consignment hubs, CBP could improve the interdiction of fentanyl now being shipped internationally into the U.S.
CBP estimates that hiring an additional 500 CBP Officers at the ports of entry would increase economic activity by $1 billion and result in an additional 16,600 jobs per year in the U.S. economy.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.