Twenty-eight trade associations, frustrated by the slow pace of getting someone installed as the permanent commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, are calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to schedule a floor vote as soon as possible to confirm Gil Kerlikowski.
The Senate Finance Committee in January favorably reported Kerlikowski's nomination to the full Senate.
President Obama nominated the former Seattle police chief in early August to be CBP commissioner. Kerlikowski had served in the Obama administration until recently as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Kerlikowski's confirmation process took a back seat to that of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who was nominated by the President in mid-October and was sworn-in at the end of December.
The current delay in approving a political appointee continues the leadership vacuum at the top of the largest sub-agency within the Department of Homeland Security. CBP has been without a confirmed commissioner for five years. President Obama nominated Alan Bersin in the fall of 2009, but the Senate Finance Committee under previous chairman Max Baucus refused to confirm him because of a power struggle with the White House over Bersin's lack of disclosure of a minor technical violation of an immigration law. Obama subsequently used his recess appointment power to install Bersin as the head of CBP, and Bersin went on to launch a major reform initiative that continues to this day. But Bersin's term expired at the end of December 2011 without a Senate approval.
Between February 2009 and March 2010, the agency was run on an interim basis by then deputy Jayson Ahern. After Bersin left, David Aguilar was elevated to the top spot until his retirement in early 2013. Thomas Winkowski has served as acting commissioner of CBP for almost a year.
CBP is working to complete the development of the ACE automated import/export system, a single-window for submitting trade documentation to other agencies, a new ruling on air cargo security, as well as fully standing up new virtual import offices, expanding cargo pre-clearance pilots with Canada, simplifying the entry process, and soliciting funds for new border infrastructure, to make commercial trade easier.
"The U.S. business community views these programs as critical to our ability to maintain the competitive edge of U.S. enterprises, large and small, and keeping our economy on a path toward higher growth and employment," the trade groups said Friday in a letter to the Senate leaders
"To meet these challenges, CBP needs a commissioner with the full support of Congress who can explain the resources required and the strategy to implement the required capabilities."