Importers, exporters and other members of the trade community can expect continuity at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the wake of the retirement of Commissioner David V. Aguilar on Sunday, Allen Gina, assistant commissioner for international trade, said Wednesday in a Webcast to members of the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) at their annual conference in Rhode Island.
Deputy Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski has become the acting commissioner, and Kevin K. McAleenan has become the acting deputy commissioner.
“I don't believe we will skip a beat,” Gina said.
The White House has not named a political nominee since former Commissioner Alan Bersin departed about 15 months ago. Career agency officials such as Aguilar, Winkowski and McAleenan have continued to push through a series of organizational and programmatic reforms aimed at simplifying and speeding up cross-border trade, correcting management failures associated with the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE), and collaborating closely with industry to co-create new compliance and security initiatives. Nonetheless, observers and insiders acknowledge agencies are typically stronger and able to propose new policies if they have a leader that has a direct relationship with the White House.
Gina said the appropriations bill signed by President Obama last week funding the government through the end of September gives the agency more flexibility in how funds within the agency are spent and may prevent a majority furloughs, though he said further consultation is necessary with both the Senate and the Office of Management and Budget. CBP in recent days has rescinded cuts to overtime and postponed furlough notices for the time being forced by the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequestration process.
Speaking about various CBP initiatives, Gina said:
- As of March 29 more than 800 importers have filed 69,000 simplified entries at 16 major airports.
- Six more Centers of Excellence and Expertise (CEEs) will be opened this spring, joining the four that are currently in operation. The current four are for electronics in Los Angeles; pharmaceuticals, health care and chemicals in New York; automotive and aerospace in Detroit; and petroleum, natural gas and minerals in Houston. By April, he said CBP will stand up CEEs for base metals in Chicago; industrial and manufactured materials in Buffalo; and machinery in Laredo. By June, CEEs will open for agricultural and prepared products in Miami; apparel, footware, and textiles in San Francisco; and consumer products and mass merchandise in Atlanta.
- CBP plans to complete ACE in about three years. Gina said the system had run into delays because the agency was trying to “build a mansion.” Continuing the analogy, he said the agency was going to “go back to Formica” instead of building a computer system with the equivalent of granite countertops. - Chris Dupin