Washington D.C. – Customs and Border Protection employees at the ports of entry are in dire need of on-site COVID-19 testing, reliable contact tracing and emergency funding to make up for the dramatic drop in user fees, according to testimony today from NTEU National President Tony Reardon.
“Throughout the pandemic, most international air, sea, and land ports of entry remained open and are staffed by CBP Office of Field Operations employees 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year,” Reardon told Congress. “There are unique, ongoing challenges to make sure health and safety precautions at all CBP worksites are comprehensive and effective. As international trade and travel struggles to return to normal, our CBP members deserve every possible safety precaution CBP can implement.”
Reardon testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability, which conducted a virtual hearing on how the Department of Homeland Security can safely resume operations. NTEU represents 27,000 CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists and trade enforcement personnel at 328 U.S. ports, plus 16 preclearance sites around the world.
The pandemic has severely disrupted international commercial travel and trade volume, causing a reduction in the collection of user fees that make up 40 percent of the Office of Field Operations’ operating budget. The salaries of one-third of the CBP Officer workforce are covered by the user fees.
New trade and travel volume data collected by CBP shows a user fee funding shortfall of more than $400 million in FY 2020 and a need for more than $1.5 billion through FY 2021 to cover the user fee shortfall through the next fiscal year.
“This FY 2020 CBP OFO supplemental funding request will help to ensure that current CBP Officer staffing levels are maintained as trade and traffic volumes increase,” Reardon told Congress. “NTEU implores you to seek additional funding now so that CBP Officers can stay on the job during the economic recovery. CBP employees at the ports of entry already face many challenges in the course of their work and concerns about their health and safety or of being furloughed as the country reopens for business should not be among them.”
In addition to the COVID-19 testing of employees and contact tracing, Reardon also said employees need increased cleaning of all terminals and work areas, including shared vehicles; staggering lanes; cleaning booths between Officer rotations, not just between shifts; plexiglass barriers in primary booths; ample supplies of personal protective equipment; and safety suits for employees who enter confined spaces such as cargo holds.
Five CBP employees represented by NTEU have died of COVID-19.
NTEU supports several provisions of H.R. 6800, the HEROES Act, including additional premium pay for either those who have regular or routine contact with the public; continued telework for all eligible federal employees; allowing federal first responders, including CBP Officers, to stay in their current law enforcement retirement plans even if they are unable to meet the physical requirements of their position due to coronavirus infections and are moved to other civil service jobs; a presumption that federal employees who work with the public and are diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted it in the workplace; eliminating out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program; and extending the emergency leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act to all federal employees.
In addition, NTEU is supporting legislation to ensure frontline federal workers responding to the pandemic can carry over excess annual leave, and we urge Congress to extend this benefit to all federal workers.
“The pursuit of the safest possible working environment for CBP employees at all ports of entry and other CBP facilities has been NTEU’s paramount concern during the COVID-19 crisis,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents about 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.