CBP’s brain drain
The retirement of Al Gina, assistant commissioner for international trade, was among several personnel moves announced Aug. 7 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner (and de facto acting commissioner) Thomas Winkowski at the quarterly meeting of a federal advisory committee.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Richard DiNucci will become the acting assistant commissioner when Gina steps down in early September.
Gina is a 30-year veteran of U.S. Customs who has held a number of key headquarters positions in recent years, including deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of Intelligence and Operations Coordination and the executive director of the Container Security Initiative and Secure Freight Initiative offices.
Gina began his career in 1983 as a Customs inspector.
He called it a “blessing” to work at Customs and named Winkowski and former commissioners Carol Hallet and George Weiss as role models.
Gina received a lengthy standing ovation for his service from his colleagues and private sector representatives in the audience.
The Office of International Trade is responsible for developing policies related to trade enforcement, including intellectual property rights, free trade agreement rules and antidumping orders, simplifying compliance and communicating legal requirements to the trade. It also works to create partnership programs with industry to streamline the flow of legitimate shipments.
Winkowski also said David Murphy, who has been the acting assistant commissioner of field operations for the past six months, will retire at the end of September. Murphy also has 30 years under his belt at the agency. He previously headed CBP’s regional field office in Chicago for several years.
Gina said one of his goals each day is to inspire other people. “Maybe I’ve inspired Dave to retire as well,” he joked.
In other news, Cynthia Whittenberg has been named the executive director of trade policy and programs. John Leonard, the acting executive director who took over last year when Brenda Smith went to lead the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) Business Office following the departure of Cindy Allen to the private sector, will become the Customs attaché in Singapore. Customs attachés serve as the liaison with host government officials on trade and security matters, and also assist U.S. companies with any customs-related issues. Whittenberg has worked on the ACE development team for the past year. Before that she was director of trade facilitation and administration in the Office of International Trade.
Elena Ryan, who has been in charge of CBP’s effort to rewrite antiquated regulations governing customs brokers, was named director of the Centers of Excellence and Expertise transition team. She will be responsible for realigning CBP resources and staff to operate the 10 new offices set up as part of the agency’s initiative to reduce red tape for cross-border transactions.
Heather Sykes will become the project manager for the role-of-the-broker initiative.
The departures of Gina and Murphy are a significant loss for the agency because of their institutional knowledge and expertise. Gina, in particular, is well regarded as a progressive civil servant who is willing to rethink how the government operates to make life easier for the businesses it regulates.
Several other significant officials have left CBP in the past year.
Acting Commissioner David Aguilar retired in April after 15 months at the helm, during which time he helped maintain momentum for the agency’s trade transformation initiative.
Jeremy Baskin retired June 1 after a long career at legacy Customs and CBP. He was the senior advisor to the executive director of Regulations and Rulings. He was a trusted liaison to the trade community on compliance issues and played significant roles in CBP’s Fines, Penalties and Forfeitures program, the development of ACE, and the bond and entry programs.
A year ago, Cindy Allen, the head of the ACE Business Office, returned to the private sector after helping put the troubled program back on its feet.
Industry officials worry that CBP is not recruiting enough talented people in the lower ranks to eventually move up and replace others who are promoted.
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