Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Specialists (CBPAS) are facing diminished ability to release agricultural products into U.S. commerce. Slowdowns in pest determinations are causing delays for time-sensitive perishable shipments and increased congestion at ports of entry, leading to further delays for other non-agriculture U.S.-bound shipments. A BTA issue brief is available here.
The Border Trade Alliance supports the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2013 (S. 178 and H.R. 1108), which would create a legislative framework for private sector or local community dollars to be used to develop border infrastructure or boost agency staffing levels. A BTA write-up on the issue is available here.
We are just now starting to feel the effects of the sequester, and I’m not talking about a cancelation of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. For the border, sequestration means the potential for longer lines at ports of entry due to staff furloughs, which slows shipments, increases crossing hassles for travelers and creates an overall economic drag on an economy starting to show signs of life.
But maybe we shouldn’t fear sequestration. Maybe instead the Department of Homeland Security and all of the federal government should use these budget cuts as a chance to conduct a top-down re-evaluation of its entire operations and determine where previous opportunities to reduce redundancies and increase efficiencies have been missed.
To paraphrase former White House chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, we shouldn’t let this crisis go to waste.
For example, I’ve argued in the past that outbound inspections of trucks and private vehicles need further examination and that, while preventing gun and money smuggling across our borders is a totally legitimate goal, every federal officer posted in the outbound lanes could be repositioned to handle incoming trade flows and security at the port where I believe they are needed most. Sequestration presents the opportunity for such an analysis.
And now is a good time for DHS to see how well it’s doing (or did) with the concept of “one face at the border,” where the turf wars of the pre-DHS era were supposed to have been done away with, replaced with a new environment of cross-agency cooperation and efficiency under the DHS umbrella. It’s been so long since those of us on the border have heard talk of “one face” that it would serve us well to go back and give it a look.
This also further opens the discussion between Congress and agencies over roles the private sector and local governments can play when and where the federal government has come up short. With legislation gaining traction on developing a framework for private dollars to be leveraged in the development of border infrastructure and staff funding, and with the concept being assessed by DHS, now is the time to bring public-private partnerships online and give the border options where in many cases it has no options.
To the agency’s credit, Customs and Border Protection, the agency most folks encounter when they enter the United States, has been very transparent with the trade and travel community, offering regular briefings to stakeholders and ensuring that local leadership is kept apprised of the latest information on port-by-port operations.
But let’s not lose sight that the private sector confronts shifting budget environments every day. Companies are constantly making tough decisions in the face of new economic data, shifting resources or scaling back when the numbers call for it. After all, the entire premise of the Lean Six Sigma management practice is based on eliminating waste while boosting outputs. DHS, especially CBP, ought to take a seminar and engage outside support for help and expertise.
Sequestration is a blunt budgetary tool and there aren’t any winners when it’s used. I would have much preferred that we confronted our country’s strained finances more thoughtfully and that we would have seen more leadership from our president and less blaming; after all sequestration was his idea. But now that it looks like sequestration is going to be here for at least the near future, let’s take advantage of it.
Nelson Balido is the president of the Border Trade Alliance