Proposed legislation in the US Senate would require Customs and Border Protection (CPB) to hire at least 600 additional officers each year until the agency’s staffing needs were completely met.

The bipartisan Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act, co-sponsored by senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), aims to alleviate an estimated shortage of almost 4,000 CBP officers nationwide. That shortage was further exacerbated by the announcement last week from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorizing the voluntary reassignment of more than 2,000 officers from ports of entry--including US airports--to the southwestern border.

While CPB currently employs 24,465 officers nationwide, workforce staffing models project a need for 27,187, indicating the agency should hire nearly 4,000 more officers.

“Potential staffing shortages at our ports of entry...driven by reassignments to the southwest border, could seriously undermine CPB’s mission to detect and deter illegal activity, like opioid trafficking, and increase wait times for lawful goods coming into the country that businesses rely on,” said senator Peters in a statement. “This legislation will help strengthen security at ports of entry across the country for years to come.”

In addition to hiring new CPB officers, the legislation would authorize hiring additional mission support staff and technicians to support CPB with non-law enforcement functions. It would also mandate reporting on infrastructure improvements at ports of entry that would “enhance drug interdiction, information on detection equipment that would improve the ability of officers to identify drugs, and safety equipment to protect officers from accidental exposure to dangerous toxins.”

“This legislation is an important step towards ensuring CBP has sufficient staffing to both address lengthy passenger wait times and open new air service opportunities in communities around the country,” Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) president and CEO Kevin Burke said. “It also will provide greater transparency and accountability to CBP’s increasing reliance on reimbursable services agreements and temporary duty assignments to cover its system-wide staffing shortfalls.”

Ben Goldstein, Ben.Goldstein@aviationweek.com