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Cuts will worsen understaffing at CBP facilities, union says

NTEU's Kelley

The union that represents thousands of federal workers said short-term and long-term mandatory U.S. government budgets cuts will worsen the effects of understaffing in Customs and Border Protection (CBP), as port expansion plans move forward.

In March 14 testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee National, Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) president Colleen Kelley said the sequestration cuts threaten to cripple critical industries in a number of states.  NTEU says it represents over 24,000 CBP officers and trade enforcement specialists stationed at 329 land, sea and air ports of entry (POEs) across the U.S.

“If the sequester, which is intended to be permanent, continues into fiscal 2014, the current levels of CBP staffing, as set by Congress in statute, will be unsustainable,” President Kelley said in telling the committee of serious CBP staffing issues in such travel and trade-heavy states as Florida, California and Texas,” she said.

According to Kelley, when the sequestration cuts went into effect, congress cut CBP’s discretionary budget by 6.4 percent  --  a reduction of $652.56 million in appropriated funds out of a $9.5 billion budget  --  $558.26 million of which must come from CBP’s Salaries and Expenses (S &E) account.

Also under the sequester, Kelley said congress cut CBP’s mandatory spending, including user fee accounts, by $100 million. User fees will continue to be collected from industry to provide travel and trade security, immigration and agriculture inspection services, according to Kelley, but CBP will be prohibited from using a portion of these user fees between March 1 and the end of the fiscal year.

The current CBP sequester plan, she said, in order to cut the S& E account by $558.26 million and the mandatory spending account by $100 million, requires all CBP employees to be furloughed up to 14 days during the remainder of FY 2013 or one day per pay period beginning early to mid-April through September 30, resulting in a 10 percent pay cut for all CBP employees. CBP began issuing furlough notices on March 7, 2013, she said.

The cuts, she said, have exacerbated short-staffing problems at important points at international travel and freight hubs. She noted Florida officials have said insufficient staffing is creating a bottleneck for travelers at a new CBP facility at Miami International Airport. She added that Florida’s governor Rick Scott has said more than 1 million jobs in his state depend on international trade and investment, and understaffing potentially could damage Florida’s competitiveness. Scott has been calling for months for additional staffing to man CBP’s new facility at Miami International airport constructed to process international passengers.

According to Kelley, El Paso city officials have been sharply critical of lengthening international bridge wait times and have expressed serious concerns about the environmental impacts of long lines of passenger and commercial traffic.

And in California, Kelley said, the expected 2014 completion of the first phase of an upgrade to the Port of San Ysidro would raise the number of booths requiring staffing from 33 to 46—and that further planned construction would increase the total to 63.

“For far too long, CBP at the ports of entry has been underfunded and understaffed,” Kelley said. She warned of serious impacts for the 50 million Americans working for companies engaged in international trade and the multi-billion-dollar loss to the U.S. economy over the next 10 years stemming from border delays.

“NTEU strongly urges Congress to end the sequester,” the NTEU leader said.