At the annual meeting of the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America in Phoenix, Arizona, on April 4, 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin gave a surprisingly frank speech. He used the familiar phrases of “global supply chain security,” the need “to protect the homeland from dangerous people and dangerous things,” and “risk management”. Only after he finished 60 minutes of speaking did I realize that he omitted saying the three dirty words that were the bedrock of every CBP Commissioner since the tragic events of 9/11.
Those three dirty words are “terrorism,” “counter-terrorism,” and “anti-terrorism.” In a radical departure from prior leaders of CBP, Commissioner Bersin stated:
We need to drive transaction costs down 10-15% to become more competitive with China, Brazil, and India…I need your help in making this happen.
I was shocked! Did I really just hear the top manager of the primary border enforcement agency for the United States talk about business and not terrorism? If you were surprised by that, then the next quote will really grab you. Commissioner Bersin described the international transportation process for both importing and exporting as “a series of bureaucratic mazes.”
I have met and talked with every Commissioner since Carol Hallett in 1989, , and have never heard such candid, outspoken, and straightforward talk from a Commissioner as I had heard yesterday.
Commissioner Bersin said that with 60,000 CBP employees and a $11.5 billion annual budget, he has 3 priorities.
1. Re-establishing the credibility between CBP and the international trade community. To this end, Commissioner Bersin has dedicated one day a month as “Trade Day” to meet with the various international trade-related associations, such as the NCBFAA. He also hired a new Director of the Office of Trade Relations, Maria Luisa O’Connell.
2. Getting the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) back on track after being in development for 15 years and spending $3 billion. He hired Cindy Allen who previously was in charge of the National Educational Institute for the NCBFAA, and is a licensed customs broker. He emphasized coordination with other Federal agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) to expedite the international transportation of cargo because he stated that 2 of 3 detentions by CBP are for the purpose of enforcing other agency regulations.
3. Account-based review by CBP focused on a single identification number rather than line by line review on an import entry.
Commissioner Bersin is not new to Federal Government, and is experienced in running large agencies such as the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, so I am very encouraged by his following assertion:
I don’t see economic prosperity as any different from our national security!
Finally, those of us who have understood that seem to have a friend in high places. Now, if only Commissioner Bersin could get his friend, the TSA Administrator to stop requiring passengers to remove their shoes when going through security, then we would really have something to celebrate.