Washington D.C. – Persistent staffing shortages and the global pandemic are taking a toll on the frontline Customs and Border Protection employees who work at the nation’s ports of entry, NTEU National President Tony Reardon told Congress today.
“Improving security, trade, and travel, and ensuring the safest possible working environment for CBP personnel at all ports of entry, including the nation’s seaports, are of paramount importance to our members, especially during the recent COVID-19 crisis,” Reardon said.
Reardon testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations in a hearing to assess the state of America’s seaports. In many cases, workload at the seaports has increased while staffing levels have suffered.
“The pandemic has affected trade volume at the seaports to much lesser effect as waterborne vessels continue to be the leading transportation mode for international freight. For example, despite the pandemic, in 2020, there was a 6 percent increase in activity at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaports that has been felt by CBP personnel,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents more than 29,000 CBP Office of Field Operations employees who staff 328 air, sea and land ports of entry in the U.S., plus preclearance facilities around the world. These employees, the vast majority of whom cannot telework and have been on the job site throughout the pandemic, ensure the efficient processing of legitimate trade and travel and stop illicit trafficking of people, drugs, weapons, and money.
Covid illnesses, temporary duty assignments at other ports and a chronic staffing shortage mean there are too few CBP employees to shoulder the workload, Reardon said.
According to CBP’s own workload staffing models, there continues to be a shortage at the ports of more than 900 CBP Officers, 214 CBP Agriculture Specialists, and 200 CBP non-uniformed trade specialists. NTEU expects the model will adjust to indicate drastically higher CBP staffing shortages at the ports of entry.
Reardon asks Congress to provide at minimum $160 million in FY 2022 to fund the hiring additional CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists, Agriculture Technicians, Agriculture Canine Teams and non-uniformed trade enforcement specialists and associated operational support personnel.
“There is no greater roadblock to the nation’s economic and border security than the lack of sufficient CBP staff at the ports,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents about 150,000 employees in 34 federal agencies and departments.