Furloughs bite for customs workers

Friday, March 8, 2013 - 9:09am

The U.S. government on Thursday notified 60,000 federal workers responsible for securing borders and facilitating trade that they will face furloughs due to government-wide spending cuts.

Customs and Border Protection said it expects furloughs and other austerity will cause delays at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and reduce the number of border patrol officers on duty at any one time.

David Aguilar, the agency's deputy commissioner, said it must cut about $754 million by September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

It aims to reach that goal through agency-wide furloughs, a hiring freeze, and reducing or eliminating overtime, compensatory time, travel and training.

Other agencies are taking similar action due to spending cuts that took effect last week across the government, called sequestration.

Customs spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in a statement that the agency "continues to evaluate further impacts of sequestration" on its operations.

"Even with these cuts though, individuals apprehended illegally crossing the southwest border will still be processed as usual," she said.

The agency said furloughs will begin in mid-April.

Reductions in Border Patrol overtime will begin April 7 and furloughs will start around the middle of that month.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday that she expects customs wait times to increase to 150 to 200 percent of normal.

"I don't mean to scare, I mean to inform. If you're traveling, get to the airport earlier than you otherwise would. There's only so much we can do with personnel," Napolitano said.

The union representing some 24,000 agency employees predicted the cuts will "undercut" national security and lead to a loss of revenue.

Customs collects more money for the federal government than any agency other than the Internal Revenue Service, said the National Treasury Employees Union.

"There is no escaping the reality that sequestration is having serious effects on the traveling public and on vital commerce," said Colleen M. Kelley, the union's president.

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