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Monday, March 4, 2013

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Customs and Border Patrol makes major cuts to weather sequestration

Now that sequestration has gone into effect on March 1, it has triggered automatic spending cuts that will force Customs and Border Protection to furlough its employees for up to two weeks in 2013 as well as other reductions that effect trade and security, according to a letter the agency sent to union officials in late February.

Sequestration, adopted by Congress as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, was designed to force Congress to come to an agreement to address the federal budget deficit. It triggers a series of automatic government spending cuts, totaling about $1 trillion over the next 10 years. These spending cuts, which started March 1, 2013, are split equally between defense and non-defense spending, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

According to DHS, "CBP Field Operations, the office responsible for securing the U.S. border at ports of entry, will experience budget cuts equating to the loss of several thousand CBP officers at these ports of entry, in addition to significant cuts to operating budgets and programs. Stakeholders in the travel and trade industries will see service impacts and CBP employees will be furloughed."

The DHS emphasized CBP priorities will remain focused on the primary anti-terrorism mission, processing and facilitating operations of cargo and travelers, and trader and traveler programs such as Global Entry and C-TPAT.

Service levels will reduce with regard to CBP cargo operations, according to the DHS website. There will likely be increased and escalating delays for container examinations of up to 5 days or more at major ports. There may also be significant daily back-ups for truck shipments at land border ports. CBP will continue to carry out border security operations consistent the law, but lowered resources means greater wait times.

CBP had notified the National Border Patrol Council president in mid February of its plans for $754 million in spending reductions, should the sequester be implemented, as reported in The Washington Post.

The letter said furloughs would be mandatory for all Customs and Border Protection employees, including management and workers without union representation. Notices would go out in mid-March, the agency said.

Other cuts would include an agency hiring freeze, contract adjustments or delays, and reductions in travel, training, supplies, facilities, overtime and relocation reimbursement, the letter said.

Figures included in the memo show that furloughs will save CBP about $234 million, while the remainder of the sequester savings would come through the other reductions.

In mid February, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that sequester reductions would roll back border security, increase wait times at ports of entry and airports, and produce a host of other consequences.

"Put simply, the automatic budget reduction mandated by sequestration would be destructive to our nation's security and to our economy," Napolitano said during testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, according to The Washington Post. "It would negatively affect the mission readiness and capabilities of the men and women on the front lines."

As a result of sequestration, CBP may reduce hours of service at select airports, seaports and land ports of entry, and any changes to service hours will be port-specific and determined locally.

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