Earlier this month, July 18th, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan testified before the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness on Trade and Commerce at U.S. Ports of Entry. Throughout his testimony, Commissioner McAleenan emphasized that CBP’s human capital, advanced technology and data analytic capabilities, and domestic and international partnerships were CBP’s best assets. There were several recurring themes throughout the hearing, including:
Non-Intrusive Inspection (NII) Technology
The Commissioner spoke of the importance of NII technology to CBP; the agency “currently has 304 large-scale NII systems and over 4,500 small-scale systems deployed to, and between point of entries (POEs).” Moreover, CBP is expanding pilot NII programs, such as the Model Port Concept, which uses drive through x-ray systems to “examine anomalies in shipments and rapidly examine conveyances”, and the US-Visit Program, which biometrically scans passengers faces as their boarding pass for quicker onboarding. CBP has currently deployed: nuclear and radiological detection equipment, including Radiation Portal Monitors, Radiation Isotope Identification Devices, and Personal Radiation Detectors.
Public-Private Partnership Programs
Commissioner McAleenan highlighted CBP’s continued engagement with the private sector, for example through the Customs-Trade Partnerships Against Terrorism (CTPAT) program. CBP is also piloting smaller, regional public-private sector collaboration programs with the Port of Los Angeles’ Trans-Pacific Container Service Corporation, “to upgrade the terminal to an automated terminal environment”, as well as with the Northwest Seaport Alliance, “to employ a straddle carrier portal at the Pierce County Terminal in Tacoma, Washington.”
Staffing and Hiring Levels
The Commissioner recognized that CBP has faced challenges in meeting hiring goals and suffered from staffing shortages, which have caused delays, commercial losses, and strained CBP Officers. McAleenan thanked Congress for providing $47.7 million in the FY 2018 Omnibus bill to hire an additional 328 CBP Officers. McAleenan reiterated that he would like to see continued support for CBP Officers via appropriations and requested an increase in funding to meet the rise in hiring requested by Congress.
McAleenan spoke of the more than 40 individual improvements CBP has made to its hiring process, such as: utilizing social media, introducing a mobile application for applicants to keep them engaged, reducing the average time-to-hire, updating polygraph examinations, and utilizing group incentives for remote POE locations, which have all contributed to significant recruitment and hiring gains.
The National Targeting Center (NTC)
Commissioner McAleenan reiterated the importance of the NTC to American security. The NTC is responsible for using advanced data and targeting tools to “analyze, assess, and segment risk at every stage in the cargo/shipment and travel life cycles.” The NTC collaborates with public sector partners, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and members of the Intelligence Community. The NTC also works in coordination with several prominent task forces.
McAleenan stated that, as a result of CBP’s diverse and ever-expanding portfolio, the agency’s infrastructure along the POEs does not meet present-day operational and security standards, as they were designed for a pre-9/11 environment. Outdated infrastructure has resulted in significant delays and loss of commerce for the U.S. Therefore, CBP has worked in recent years to make port infrastructure a top priority, constructing and modernizing land POEs along the Northern and Southern borders, and completing additional enhancement and expansion projects.
Crucial to updating infrastructure deficits are CBPs partnerships with the private sector through programs like the Reimbursable Services Agreement (RSA) and Donation Acceptance Program (DAP). The RSA “enables stakeholders to identify enhanced services needed to facilitate growing volumes of trade and travel at specific POEs and enables CBP to receive reimbursement” to fulfil these requirements. Currently, CBP has 150 RSA programs in place at 100 ports of entry. The DAP “authorizes CBP and GSA to accept donations of real property, personal property, and non-personal services from public and private entities” for Office of Field Operation activities at certain ports of entry. CBP has received 23 applications for the DAP, a substantial number of which are in Texas.
E-Commerce and De Minimis
McAleenan said that CBP has seen a 50 percent increase in express shipments. Given the risk management challenges that have stemmed from the increase in e-commerce shipments and raised de minimis value, CBP has also seen a rise in illegal narcotics, such as methamphetamines and fentanyl, being trafficked into the U.S and through mail shipments.
After the Commissioners testimony, Congressmen John Cornyn (R-TX), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Tom Carper (D-DE) questioned McAleenan on: intellectual property rights, and forced labor in supply chains, families being separated at the border, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, countering terrorist financing, CBP’s hiring of veterans, the result of recent steel tariffs, and CBP’s relationship with Latin America in discussions surrounding immigration.