CBP Staffing Increase Would Help Fight Fentanyl

Press Release May 21, 2024

WASHINGTON – More international packages containing fentanyl would be seized at U.S. ports if there were enough Customs and Border Protection employees on the job, NTEU National President Doreen Greenwald said Tuesday.

In written testimony submitted to the Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, Greenwald said the agency needs to hire 4,000 CBP Officers, 250 Agriculture Specialists and at least 160 non-uniformed Trade Specialists to address staffing needs at the ports of entry. The figures are from CBP’s own workload staffing model for the Office of Field Operations, which staffs 328 ports of entry around the country, plus 16 international preclearance sites.

“Inadequate funding for these CBP employees shortchanges our economic growth and our national security,” she wrote.

NTEU represents frontline CBP employees at the ports who combat human smuggling, seize illegal drugs and counterfeit products, and facilitate the lawful flow of trade and travel. They are the second largest collectors of revenue in the federal government, collecting almost $112 billion in duties, taxes, and fees in fiscal year 2022.

“Our air, sea and land ports of entry are in desperate need of more CBP employees to reduce wait times for international travelers and cargo shippers, improve the interdiction of illegal drugs and illicit goods, and handle the processing of migrants seeking asylum,” Greenwald wrote.

Greenwald also informed Congress that the staffing crisis at the ports is expected to worsen in 2028 when CBP Officer retirements could increase by 400 percent because the 20-year Law Enforcement Officer retirement coverage expires for Officers hired before July 2008. Further, more than 35 percent of CBP Import Specialists will retire or be eligible to retire within the next few years.

CBP seizures of fentanyl have been escalating for several years, increasing by more than 200 percent over the last two fiscal years. Between 2013 and 2017, approximately 25,405 pounds, or 88 percent of all opioids seized by CBP, were seized at ports of entry.

Fentanyl and fentanyl precursors manufactured in China is either funneled through Mexico in regular cargo or sent by mail and express consignment operators directly to addresses in the U.S., but CBP staffing has not kept pace with the increase in packages.

CBP officials in April testified that the agency processes about 4 million de minimis – or low-value – packages per day, up from 2.8 million at the same point last year.

“They pose the same potential health, safety, economic security, and forced labor risks as larger and more traditional cargo and containerized shipments,” Greenwald wrote. “Low value does not mean low risk.”

In addition to increased hiring, NTEU supports a new $2 De Minimis User Fee that, if enacted, reimburses CBP for the cost of providing the additional inspection services.

NTEU represents employees in 35 federal agencies and offices, including 29,000 Customs and Border Protection Officers, Agriculture Specialists and trade enforcement and compliance specialists.