Washington D.C. – Long-term staffing shortages continue to pose major challenges for the Customs and Border Protection employees who work at the nation’s ports of entry, NTEU National President Tony Reardon told Congress today.
“The security issue of utmost concern to CBP Office of Field Operations employees are the funding challenges that contribute to ports of entry being chronically understaffed,” Reardon said. “There is no greater roadblock to border security than the lack of sufficient staff at the ports.”
Reardon testified before the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management, which conducted a virtual hearing Wednesday on improving security, trade and travel at the southwest border ports.
The agency’s own workload staffing models show a shortage of 1,700 CBP Officers, 400 CBP Agriculture Specialists, and 200 CBP non-uniformed trade specialists at the nation’s 328 air, sea and land ports of entry. Lack of adequate staffing leads to longer wait times for legitimate trade and travel, involuntary overtime shifts, and the need for personnel to leave their home ports to take temporary duty assignments at the southwest border ports.
NTEU has asked Congress to provide the agency with at least $160 million in fiscal year 2022 to hire 800 CBP Officers, 240 Agriculture Specialists and 50 non-uniformed trade enforcement personnel.
There is also concern among frontline employees about how the staffing shortage will impact operations once pandemic-related travel restrictions at the border land ports are lifted.
“I have heard from NTEU leaders that the current staffing at land ports will be unable to maintain inspection and processing functions to address the expected increase in traffic flow in a timely manner,” Reardon said.
The coronavirus pandemic has also disrupted the type of international travel and commerce that generates user fees at the ports that fund 8,000 CBP Officer positions. Congress provided emergency funding in fiscal year 2021 to maintain current staffing levels. But projected CBP trade and travel volume data shows an estimated user fee shortfall of up to $1.4 billion through the first quarter of fiscal year 2022.
“Without additional funding, either through reprogramming, a supplemental or appropriated dollars to support these CBP Officers between now and the end of FY 2022, this loss of user fee funding will result in furloughs at a time when this workforce is most needed to facilitate the flow of legitimate travel and trade as the economy recovers,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents employees in 34 federal agencies and offices, including more than 29,000 CBP employees at the ports of entry.