CBP staff shortage affecting workplace safety, U.S. economy

Customs and Border Protection is running far short of the staffing level it needs to run safely and effectively, according to the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents tens of thousands of CBP employees. 

“The CBP employees I represent are frustrated that Congress does not recognize that securing the ports of entry is just as vital to border security as is securing the borders between the ports of entry, and that the ports are an economic driver of the U.S. economy,” NTEU President Tony Reardon told lawmakers. 

Reardon testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. 

The NTEU president clarified the staffing numbers for the subcommittee with a stark picture. At present there are about 1,200 CBP officer positions, already funded by Congress, that remain vacant—and according to the agency’s own staffing model requirements, there’s a need for an additional 2,500 more beyond that. 

On top of these glaring holes in personnel, CBP’s staffing model also calls for hiring more than 700 additional Agriculture Specialists. 

These shortages impact the nation’s ports, causing delays and interfering with the free flow of trade. There is simply no way to accomplish the agency’s mission without strain—slowdowns occur just from the lack of personnel, and there is no way to do as many secondary inspections as could be possible with full staffing. Additionally, forced overtime and temporary reassignments long distances from home hurt morale. 

“The more than 25,000 CBP employees represented by NTEU are proud of their part in keeping our country free from terrorism, our neighborhoods safe from drugs, and our economy safe from illegal trade, while ensuring that legal trade and travelers move expeditiously through our air, sea and land ports,” Reardon said. “But frontline CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists at our nation’s ports of entry need relief.”

Reardon added that the lack of staff is interfering with CBP’s efforts to stem the flow of illegal opioids into the country. The agency is in the midst of implementing a three-part program to collect data on inbound express cargo from abroad, in connection with interdicting illegal drugs. But due to personnel limitations, the agency is only slowly churning through the second phase of the process. Proper staffing would help greatly, he said. 

“Congress, by requiring CBP to report this useful information on violators and violator penalty assessments, would enhance CBP’s interdiction of prohibited items from entering the U.S. through express consignment operators,” Reardon told the subcommittee. 

Reardon described a disturbing and possibly dangerous situation across the nation’s ports and borders. He provided several examples of the agency robbing one port of officers to shore up another. For example, staffing at the Orlando International Airport port of entry was depleted to pump up the numbers by temporary reassignments clear across the country, in Nogales, Ariz. 

Not only did this place strain on the remaining Orlando staff in pursuit of their mission, the shift of only 10 employees is a drop in the bucket against a 300-officer shortfall at Nogales. 

Under these circumstances, not only are there security and workplace safety problems—NTEU has called the situation “dangerous”—it is also not sustainable in the long haul, as employees are forced to work excessive hours at a great many locations.  

“Imagine working up to 16 hours a day here for days on end with no relief in sight,” as Reardon told the subcommittee. 

Reader comments

Thu, Jun 28, 2018

The problem isn't about a worker shortage; the problem lies with getting those already on the payroll to work at their fullest potential. Too many lazy bums Manning the ports and wasting the hard-earned money of others.

Thu, Jan 18, 2018

Most of the opioid issue begins with doctors providing patients with too many pills for too long after a surgery or dental appointment. Lots of pills floating around the US and being taken anyway, starts the drug addiction and the demand for the illegal stuff that comes across the borders.

Fri, Jan 12, 2018

Just wondering if people are not applying, or they are not passing the background checks? Also a lot of people have done or do drugs, possibly have poor credit, etc. and perhaps not passing background because of that. I also wonder if they CBP is going to job fairs trying to recruit folks, how aggressive are their hiring practices to seek out folks?

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