Washington, D.C. – The ability of Customs and Border Protection to block security threats at the nation’s 328 ports of entry is hampered by a persistent staffing shortage of more than 4,000 employees, National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon told Congress Tuesday.
“Any discussion of resources to protect and secure the homeland must include the hiring of new personnel at the ports of entry,” Reardon wrote in testimony submitted to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The panel’s hearing, “Authorities and Resources Needed to Protect and Secure the U.S.,” was an opportunity for NTEU to detail how the staffing crisis weakens homeland security, threatens the American economy and harms the men and women of CBP’s Office of Field Operations.
The agency needs to hire 2,516 additional CBP Officers and 721 Agriculture Specialists to reach its own workload staffing models for peak effectiveness and efficiency. CBP is also 1,328 Officers short of what is currently authorized by law. These border security jobs are critical to fighting terrorism, enforcing trade and immigration laws, stopping illegal drugs, and protecting agriculture from invasive pests and species.
Trade and travel are increasing, ports are expanding and a new congressional report last week identified increased CBP hiring as the most effective way to interdict more shipments of illicit opioids into the country. Land ports in San Diego and Tucson together account for 57 percent of all opioids seized by CBP, but southwestern land ports are so short-staffed that Officers from around the country are shipped there for temporary duty assignments to fill the gaps.
“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,” Reardon wrote.
NTEU supports two ways Congress can make an immediate impact on the shortage: The Border and Port Security Act, S. 2314, would authorize the hiring of 500 additional Officers and additional trade operations staff every year until the shortage is alleviated. Also, NTEU is urging Congress to provide up to $100 million in 2019 direct appropriations to hire 500 CBPOs, 100 Agriculture Specialists and additional non-uniformed trade operations staff.
Reardon also questioned CBP’s $297 million contract with a private company to oversee the hiring process.
“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,” Reardon said. “NTEU strongly believes that addressing OFO hiring shortages by funding needed new CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists 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.
NTEU represents employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.