Stuck in neutral: CBP needs commissioner
Question: What agency has the most significant role in protecting U.S. commerce from infiltration by drug smugglers, terrorists, thieves and even pests and harmful products?
Answer: Customs and Border Protection.
As simple as that answer may be, the White House and Congress for the past two years since the recess appointment of Commissioner Alan Bersin expired have pathetically failed to appoint a new leader to run this vital agency of 60,000 employees, allowing mostly petty politics to get in the way of the public’s best interest as it relates to border security.
In reality, CBP has not had a confirmed leader since the Bush administration because President Obama had to use a legislative loophole to temporarily install Bersin when it became clear the Senate Finance Committee was not going to move his nomination to the floor for a vote because of concerns about his handling of immigration paperwork for domestic workers he once hired.
Career CBP and Border Patrol official David Aguilar moved up to acting commissioner at the start of 2012, but he retired in April, and was replaced by another civil service official — Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski.
American Shipper’s trade and transportation editor Eric Kulisch, who has closely followed the careers of these two acting commissioners, noted “both men have done well to keep CBP functioning smoothly and advancing initiatives in the pipeline, such as the Centers of Excellence and Expertise, but it’s never good when an agency lacks permanent political leaders selected by the White House.
“That’s because interim officials feel they don’t have the necessary clout on Capitol Hill or within the administration to propose new policy directions or make big changes. Also, rank-and-file workers are apt to hold back implementing any changes knowing an interim chief won’t be around long term,” he explained.
CBP’s personnel should be applauded for their hard work over the past six years to keep America’s borders as safe and secure as they possibly can.
CBP is not alone at DHS. The department has 14 presidentially appointed positions, or about 40 percent of top management jobs, that are being held by career civil servants.
On Dec. 16, the Senate confirmed Jeh Johnson as secretary of homeland security. This was a miracle to say the least because President Obama only nominated Johnson for the post two months earlier. Former Secretary Janet Napolitano left DHS in mid-August. Also, DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was recently sworn in. His nomination had been held up by Republicans who questioned his handling of visa approvals as head of another DHS agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Maybe now there will be enough momentum to bring on board other belated DHS agency leaders, such as a CBP commissioner. President Obama has nominated White House drug czar and former Seattle police commissioner Gil Kerlikowske for the position, but no confirmation hearing has been scheduled at the start of 2014.
Shippers concerned about trade facilitation and how it impacts their business should press the Senate to hold a confirmation hearing for Kerlikowske as soon as possible. While Kerlikowske may have a law enforcement background, an engaged industry will surely guide him toward the importance of a balanced approach to border security and efficient movement of goods.
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