U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ain't what it used to be—and that ain't good, says Peter A. Friedmann, Washington counsel for the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT).
Before it was folded into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, CBP was a "proud, independent" agency, Friedmann said in a March speech at CONECT's annual Northeast Trade & Transportation Conference in Newport, R.I. Even though Customs was under the aegis of the Treasury Department, the commissioner was influential and made policy, he said.
Under DHS, however, that has changed. "The commissioner is an assistant secretary who spends one-third of his time reporting to a boss who has his own policy office," Friedmann said. In many areas, Customs is not allowed to make decisions on its own, and it's unclear who has executive oversight of some programs, he added. On top of that, the commissioner's post is still empty more than a year into the Obama administration. Former U.S. attorney Alan D. Bersin's nomination has been held up in the Senate Finance Committee for months, in part because Congress has been preoccupied with health care legislation.
The international trade community would be better served if the commissioner had a freer hand, Friedmann added. "How can we elevate CBP back to some position of authority and policy making? That's a conversation we are having in Washington now."