WASHINGTON, D.C. —The appointment of a new Customs and Border Protection commissioner might still be a year off despite President Obama’s re-election.
The post has been vacant nearly a year after Alan Bersin, a recess appointee tapped by President Obama in March 2010, resigned from the post in December when the Senate Finance Committee refused to consider his nomination. David Aguilar served as acting commissioner until his term limited expired, and he is back serving as deputy commissioner but also expertly handling much of the responsibilities of the top job, said George Weise, customs commissioner from 1993 to 1997.
“That power vacuum will hopefully be addressed sooner as Obama won rather than there being a change in (presidential) power,” he said. Weise hopes a new commissioner will be nominated in the first quarter and confirmed in the second quarter.
Susan Kohn Ross, an international trade attorney, said it could take year before Obama nominates someone for the job, considering the administration and Congress’ priority will be avoiding the fiscal cliff in early 2013. Plus, nominating individuals to more profile agencies, such as the departments of state and treasury, will take priority, she said.
“The No. 1 priority is ACE. It has been languishing and it’s time to get it finished and retire the old system,” Weise. “There is some ‘ACE fatigue’ after spending billions of dollars and it still being a long way from completion.”
Instead of waiting for a politically appointed leader, Customs and the trade community need to lobby Congress to boost funding for the Automated Commercial Environment. The cargo-processing system is years behind schedule and its budget has ballooned from $1.4 billion to more than $3 billion. Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal calls for $140 million for ACE operation and maintenance, but there isn’t any money available to expand the program.
Ross, an attorney with Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp in Los Angeles, admits convincing Congress to lift ACE funding a challenge, as adding border agents is far easier for members to understand and justify than spending on a long-delayed and complicated technology system. Encouragingly, Customs is one of the few agencies with the ability to put such an IT system in place, she said.