Customs commissioners come and go with some frequency, and usually they're chosen from outside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—typically from law enforcement, the judiciary, or government. When a new commissioner comes from law enforcement, there's legitimate concern that he or she may give short shrift to trade facilitation and slow the wheels of commerce by focusing mainly on enforcement and security.
But the initial word on new CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske is more positive than his background might suggest. Kerlikowske came to CBP after a four-decade career in law enforcement and drug policy in locations across the country. To top it off, he holds bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice.
Despite that rÃ©sumÃ©, there are signs that Kerlikowske does understand the importance of trade facilitation to U.S. businesses and the economy at large. For one thing, he was nominated and supported by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, a strong advocate for trade facilitation, said Peter Friedmann, Washington counsel for the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT) at that group's 18th Annual Northeast Trade & Transportation Conference. In addition, Friedmann noted, most of the questions Kerlikowske fielded during his confirmation hearing were about trade facilitation, and just two days after the hearing, he had dinner with a group of customs brokers who expressed their views on the subject. "We're sure he got the message," Friedmann said. "I think he's going to be a good commissioner and will pay attention to trade."
Kerlikowske's April 2 testimony before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security suggests he is indeed paying attention. One of CBP's FY 2015 operational and budget priorities, he said, is "strengthening and optimizing resources at ... ports of entry to secure and facilitate increasing volumes of travel and trade." And while much of his testimony focused on security, he also asked for increased funding for technology that would move imports "into the stream of commerce" more quickly.