RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection has kept disruptions to a minimum at the Los Angeles and Long Beach seaports and Los Angeles International Airport by working with the trade community to prioritize allocation of resources during this period of sequestration, a top Customs official said yesterday.
“The key during sequestration has been to engage from the start with stakeholders, to let them know what to expect,” said Todd Owen, director of the Los Angeles office of field operations.
Owen also told the annual conference of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America that for now CBP in Los Angeles will not have to furlough any workers, as had been expected.
Customs was preparing this month to furlough 200 of the 2,000 CBP officers in Southern California due to sequestration, but Congress passed a continuing resolution bill, so there should be enough money to avoid furloughs for now, he said.
Nevertheless, Customs must continue to manage its resources carefully until the sequestration issue is resolved, and that means no overtime work for Customs employees. The seaports and airport are experiencing some delays in clearing cargo and passengers because CBP can not use overtime as a force multiplier during periods of peak traffic and during the PierPass extended gates at night and on weekends, Owen said.
CBP’s strategy to minimize the impact of sequestration in Southern California, and at the agency’s other 17 field offices across the country, has been to meet with the trade community early on, and to maintain ongoing communication throughout the crisis.
Customs began planning for sequestration in December because the first deadline was Jan. 1. Although no action was needed immediately, CBP consulted with the trade communities in each of the field offices to discuss operations and the prioritizing of asset use.
The agency emphasized from the beginning that there would be no backing away from its anti-terrorist programs, Owen said. Rather, Customs assessed where its personnel were being deployed, and developed plans to reassign some officers from less critical assignments.
For example, CBP in Los Angeles-Long Beach reassigned to front-line positions personnel that had been working in the honor guard for funerals and public events. Customs also reassigned to cargo clearance and similar positions its special forces personnel, and scaled back agents assigned to participate in drug-interdiction night patrols.
The agency in early March was able to avoid serious delays at the seaports because container volumes were light in the post-Chinese New Year weeks. Now, however, vessel calls have returned to normal and the ships are filled with cargo.
Some delays are therefore being experienced because Customs has no money for overtime work, Owen said. The manning of radiation portal monitors at marine terminal exit gates has dropped to 17 hours a day from 20. There is no vessel boarding now between 9:30 p.m. and 4 a.m., so vessel operators are encouraged to either slow down or speed up to avoid that window of time.
Containers requiring intensive exams at the central examination stations can take six to seven days to clear, compared to 24 hours before. Clearing bags from the 22 cruise ships that call each month at the ports takes five hours, versus three hours before, he said.
Nevertheless, the sharing of ideas by CBP and all of the stakeholders in the Southern California transportation community has kept the ports and airport operating relatively smoothly during sequestration, Owen said.