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Sequestration Already Impacting Travel And Trade as CBP Issues Furlough Notices

Thursday, March 7 2013

Washington, D.C.—Less than a week after taking effect, sequestration already is resulting in lengthening lines of passenger and commercial traffic at the nation’s ports of entry.

News reports, such as those detailing a doubling in processing time for two in-bound international flights at Orlando International Airport and potential delays of up to five days for container cargo inspection at the Port of New York and New Jersey, will become more commonplace in the weeks ahead, said the leader of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU).

Moreover, the situation threatens to get much worse for the many businesses, both large and small, dependent on trade as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today issued furlough notices. The notices of as many as 14 unpaid furlough days are expected to go to all 24,000 employees represented by NTEU, as well as managers and supervisors.

NTEU has begun formal bargaining with CBP over furlough notices.

“There is no escaping the reality that sequestration is having serious effects on the traveling public and on vital commerce,” said NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley. “These impacts will only get worse the longer sequestration continues, especially as the busy summer travel season approaches.”

It is clear that moving forward, sequestration will take a particularly heavy toll on CBP’s trade-related mission, resulting not just in longer wait times at the border, but in the loss of perishable goods and a constricted flow of commerce. This will result in considerable lost revenue, as CBP collects more money for the federal government than any agency other than the Internal Revenue Service.

President Kelley has warned the steps could undercut the agency’s critical national security mission, emphasizing that sufficient manpower at crossing points is essential to achieving and maintaining secure borders. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has warned of serious impacts, as well.

In House testimony in late February, the NTEU leader pointed out that what has amounted to a CBP freeze in trade enforcement and compliance personnel at March 2003 levels has left CBP duty and fee revenue collection essentially flat. Between 2005 and 2009, for example, it declined by some $2 billion, to $29 billion.

In a message to employees, Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar said the budget cuts—some $754 million for this agency by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year—require it to “take unprecedented actions” including a hiring freeze, reducing or eliminating overtime and compensatory time, curtailing travel and training and implementing an agency-wide furlough.

Along with the negative effects on the public, sequestration and associated unpaid furlough days will wreak havoc among federal workers. An NTEU survey of more than 2,200 of its members clearly showed that sequestration will worsen situations they and their agencies already face as a result of tight and, in some cases, declining budgets of recent years.

Two-thirds of survey respondents said they see an agency hiring freeze; 80 percent said their agency is not replacing employees who leave, giving rise to workload issues; nearly half said critical work is not being done; and close to 70 percent said their agency lacks the resources to complete their mission properly.

As they face unpaid furlough days, fully 82 percent of the members surveyed said the loss of pay would result in difficulty paying their rent or mortgage, utility bills and food expenses. More than 60 percent said they would have to take money from savings or retirement for current bills; and nearly 20 percent said furloughs would be particularly difficult for them since their spouse already has lost a job or suffered a pay cut.

The furloughs come on top of a pay freeze for federal workers that has stretched 27 months. President Kelley once again emphasized that federal workers have contributed more to deficit reduction than any other group in the nation. Their $103 billion contribution over 10 years comes from the pay freeze and higher pension contributions with no increase in annuity.

“Despite this enormous contribution,” President Kelley said, “the pay and benefits of federal workers, including their pensions, continue to be under attack from some in Congress. Our response has been and will continue to be to fight strenuously against such efforts.”

For CBP employees, Kelley said, “the proposed 14 days of furloughs would result in the drastic loss of nearly three weeks’ pay for dedicated frontline workers. Our goal is to mitigate the effects of these furloughs to the greatest extent possible and to ensure they are applied equitably.”

NTEU is the largest independent federal union, representing 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.

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