Bill aims to boost CBP staffing at border to increase trade and strengthen security
Posted on Jun 07 2017
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) delivers remarks following the introduction of the Flake-Heitkamp CBP HiRe Act
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) today reintroduced the Customs and Border Protection Hiring and Retention (CBP HiRe) Act. The bill aims to boost manpower at the border and strained ports of entry by allowing the agency to utilize specific incentives, pay rates, and authorities to help CBP reach congressionally-mandated staffing levels. Among the groups supporting the CBP HiRe Act are the National Border Patrol Council, National Treasury Employees Union, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
In recent years, CBP has experienced difficulties recruiting, hiring, and retaining both Border Patrol agents to secure the border and CBP officers to staff trade-facilitating ports of entry. These positions remain unfilled due to high attrition rates, a lengthy hiring process, and difficulty finding applicants willing to work in remote locations. Despite congressional authorization and ample funding for new hires, CBP remains nearly 1,000 CBP officers and 1,800 Border Patrol agents short of congressionally-mandated staffing levels.
In fact, CBP is barely able to hire fast enough to fill the jobs left by departing agents and officers. CBP hires only one out of every 64 applicants for officer positions and one out of every 113 applicants for Border Patrol agent positions, according to the agency. In total, less than two percent of applicants manage to get through CBP’s hiring process.
The CBP HiRe Act streamlines processes and procedures to give CBP more autonomy over existing incentives and authorities to bring more law enforcement personnel into frontline positions. The bill allows CBP to offer recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives to applicants for law enforcement positions in remote and rural areas with recruitment retention difficulties. CBP would also be able to establish special rates of pay and commuting allowances for officers and agents stationed in undesirable and hard-to-fill locations.
Lastly, to address applicants’ fear of long-term career damage if they fail to pass the agency’s polygraph exam, CBP would be prohibited from disclosing an applicant’s polygraph results with another federal agency.
“Arizona’s safety and prosperity are inextricably linked to CBP’s ability to secure the border and facilitate trade. The CBP HiRe Act is a commonsense, bipartisan solution to the persistent staffing shortages along the border that threaten both national security and trade-reliant economies,” said Flake. “I thank Senator Heitkamp for working with me to introduce this important bill and I look forward to seeing it move through the Senate without delay.”
“I am pleased to see commonsense reforms to the bureaucratic hiring process that has left the border chronically understaffed,” said Tucson Local Border Patrol Union President Art Del Cueto. “These reforms give CBP the tools it needs to recruit and retain high quality personnel to remote parts of the country and give us the manpower necessary to complete our border security missions.”
“When I visit Portal and Pembina, both remote ports along our nation’s 5,500-mile long Northern Border, and talk with the dedicated officers manning those ports, I see the stress that is caused by the vacancies and other workforce challenges at such locations,” said Heitkamp. “We can help address these challenges and improve border security by giving Customs and Border Protection the authority it needs to develop better hiring and retention strategies that work on the ground – commonsense principles from my Flexible HIRE Act which identify the struggles CBP faces in remote areas. Together, Senator Flake and I are working toward bipartisan solutions that will help make sure CBP has the flexibility it needs to attract a vibrant workforce to keep our borders and communities safe.”
Flake and Heitkamp originally introduced the CBP HiRe Act in 2016 during the 114th Congress.
Support: The CBP HiRe Act is supported by National Border Patrol Council, National Treasury Employees Union, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Tucson Border Patrol Local Union, Arizona-Mexico Commission, Border Trade Alliance, Arizona Border Counties Coalition, Douglas International Port Authority, Douglas Regional Economic Development Corp, Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Greater Nogales/Santa Cruz County Port Authority, Greater Yuma Economic Development Corp, Nogales-Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, Transportation & Trade Corridor Alliance, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Ambos Nogales Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Douglas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
- On March 9, 2017, Flake introduced the Boots on the Border Act to address hiring shortfalls at CBP by waiving duplicative polygraph requirements for applicants with qualifying law enforcement or military experience. Read more about the bill here.
- On Oct.17, 2016, Flake sent a letter to Department of Homeland (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson requesting additional information on CBP’s polygraph examinations. The signed letter can be viewed here.
- On June, 29, 2016, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Flake sought answers from Secretary Johnson on several border and immigration-related issues impacting Arizona, including the hiring rate of CBP officers. Video of Flake and Secretary Johnson’s exchange can be viewed here.
- On May 11, 2016, Flake hosted a meeting with DHS officials, local port authorities, and other cross-border trade stakeholders to discuss the critical need to fully staff ports of entry.
- On Oct. 19, 2015, the Border Jobs for Veterans Act was signed into law. This bill was introduced by Flake and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) to help put veterans to work as CBP officers at understaffed U.S. ports of entry by requiring the Department of Defense and DHS to cooperate on efforts to recruit and expedite the hiring of outgoing U.S. military service members.
- In 2014, Flake led a successful effort to secure congressional authorization and funding for the creation of 2,000 new CBP officer positions to increase manpower at strained and understaffed ports of entry.
- As ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, Heitkamp has long been working to address challenges border security officials face in recruiting and retaining quality officers to help keep communities safe. In July 2016, Heitkamp introduced her Flexible HIRE (Hiring and Improving Recruitment, Retention, and Education) Act of 2016 which aims to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal hiring process so that federal agencies, particularly those located in rural or remote areas, can better attract and maintain personnel. Additionally, Heitkamp’s bipartisan Northern Border Security Review Act – which is now law – mandates an evaluation of security threats along the 5,500-mile long Northern Border by comprehensively examining current resources and personnel levels to help make sure CBP has the tools it needs to protect our communities.