The $754 million hit that U.S. Customs will take to its budget through Oct. 1 under the automatic federal budget cuts that kick in today will significantly decrease the efficiency of port operations, agency officials have told industry stakeholders in a series of outreach sessions.
Customs and Border Protection leaders on Friday held a conference call with several trade associations to outline where they were making cutbacks and how the reduced manpower would impact operations at ports of entry
Overtime for Customs officers will immediately be curtailed and front-line personnel will be subject to 12 to 14 days of furloughs, or one day per pay period. The unpaid leave will not take effect until at least mid-April because there is a requirement under collective bargaining that employees be given 30 days advance notice of any changes to their work status. The furloughs will leave CBP with a 10 percent reduction in its daily workforce. The result is that wait times for passengers to cross the border will likely double and could reach four to five hours at some of the busiest crossings on the Mexican border, and cargo exams could take five days or longer to complete at seaports, they said.
The elimination of overtime means that cargo will not be processed prior to 8 a.m. and radiation portal monitor and X-ray exams will not be conducted after regular hours, Todd Owen, the director of field operations for the Los Angeles port district, said in a meeting with the Foreign Trade Association
, according to a memo posted on the Port of Long Beach's Website.
All outbound containers moving by rail or truck must go through the radiation detection booths before being released into U.S. commerce for security reasons. At ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach, the practice of moving many containers off the docks during evening hours would have to stop, adding congestion to daytime operations.
Owen also said express consignments will only be processed during regular business hours and that cargo release at seaports could take longer than five days once cargo starts to back up.
CBP will also immediately cut funds for travel, IT support and other back-office functions, according to the FTA briefing memo. The Trade Interface Unit, a problem-solving resource in the Los Angeles/Long Beach port area, will have reduced staff and hours. Non-priority tasks such as processing post-entry amendments and protests may be delayed. - Eric Kulisch