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Commissioner Kerlikowske’s Remarks at the Congressional Leaders Forum, Hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives and Airports Council International – North America

Release Date: 
March 16, 2016

Remarks as prepared for March 16, 2016

I’m pleased to be able to address two very important industry groups and I want to welcome those of you who are not “local” to our Nation’s capital. I’d like to thank Todd Hauptli, President and CEO of American Association of Airport Executives. I also want to thank Kevin Burke, President and CEO of Airports Council International-North America.

Today, I’d like to tell you about what U.S. Customs and Border Protection is doing in terms of aviation security and travel facilitation.

Your associations – your member companies – are not only critical stakeholders, but you’re all key partners in helping us fulfill our commitment to border security.

That’s because you understand our mission – and how high the stakes are. Together with air carriers, the associations that represent them and their passengers, and local airport authorities, we’re working towards providing a best-in-class international arrivals experience to an ever increasing number of visitors while maintaining the highest standards of national security – and, of course, the very best customer service we can provide.

In fact, based on CBP’s latest Traveler Satisfaction Survey – administered at the top 25 airports between January and August of 2015 – 93 percent of travelers felt welcomed to the United States.  In addition, the number of travelers who perceived “wait times” as 15 minutes or less increased from 63 percent in 2012 to 88 percent in 2015.

From Fiscal Year 2013 through Fiscal Year 2015, international air travel has increased by more than 10 percent – but despite this increase – and thanks to CBP’s business transformation efforts – during that same time CBP has lowered the average wait times at the top 25 airports by more than 15 percent.

We’re very proud of that accomplishment, because in the airport environment, on any given day, CBP officers at U.S. international airports process nearly 300,000 incoming passengers and crew. Against this backdrop, CBP officers must carefully balance uncompromising focus on safety and security. 

More than 112 million international travelers arrived at U.S. airports during Fiscal Year 2015. That’s an increase of more than 5 percent from Fiscal Year 2014. And over the next five years, international travel is projected to increase at an annual rate of around 4 percent.

As travel to the United States continues to increase, and as we use our available resources, CBP has taken significant steps to enhance security and facilitate legitimate travel to the United States.

Nearly five years ago, CBP’s Office of Field Operations embarked on an ambitious campaign to transform the way we do business. We took a hard look at our processes, our staffing, and our technology, and concluded that we could make the kinds of improvements that could benefit our travel industry stakeholders – the airports and airlines – and their stakeholders, the travelling public.

As a result, through our Resource Optimization Strategy, we have been creating efficiencies and maximizing our resources through Business Transformation Initiatives like the innovations you see and use in airports today; through CBP’s Workload Staffing Model to accurately identify staffing needs; and through the cultivation of public-private partnerships to support growing volumes of travel and trade through expanded services and facilities.

We rolled out these improvements to the nation’s largest ports of entry, and we are now working with smaller and growing ports to identify how our Resource Optimization Strategy can best meet the needs of those locations.

We have also made progress in addressing frontline recruitment and hiring challenges. CBP established a National Frontline Recruitment Command (NFRC), comprised of uniformed agents and officers as well as Human Resources Management (HRM) personnel to provide support and expertise to Office of Field Operations, U.S. Border Patrol, and Air and Marine Operations field recruitment offices. We are currently on track to more than double the 1,578 recruitment events attended in FY15.

A key effort is our traditional and military “hiring hub” pilots, through which we have reduced time in the hiring process by over 60 percent.

These hiring hubs combine multiple pre-employment steps into two days for each applicant and processes all hiring hub steps in one facility. 

And we plan to continue refining and expanding the use of these hiring hubs. We have also improved recruitment, including enhancing our engagement with the Department of Defense to increase efforts to hire transitioning service members and veterans.

Recruitment and hiring process improvements, such as opening multiple job opportunity announcements for vacancies, have proven to be effective in increasing the number of applications received for CBP frontline positions. In FY15, CBP’s recruitment efforts resulted in over 100,000 new applicants for frontline positions.

Our frontline is truly our greatest resource, and as our Workload Staffing Models continue to demonstrate a need for additional staffing, CBP also continues to focus on streamlining processes to make our hiring process more efficient and effective. In the face of this need, CBP’s business transformation and resource optimization efforts have demonstrated success.

And I’d like to take a few minutes to bring you up to date on where we are with these efforts, beginning with our business transformation initiatives. 

CBP continues to expand Global Entry, the flagship of its Trusted Traveler Program in the air environment. Global Entry is now available at 60 airports at both domestic and preclearance locations, and more than 4.1 million travelers now have Global Entry benefits. Since December 2015, citizens of the United Kingdom have been eligible to register for Global Entry.  And in the past year, we have signed Joint Statements with Colombia, Peru, Switzerland, and Japan, to continue moving towards Global Entry implementation.

For the casual traveler, Automated Passport Control, or APC, has been proven to reduce wait times by nearly 30 percent. APC kiosks use touch-screen technology that lets passengers scan their passports, provide fingerprints, and enter their customs declaration information. APC kiosks reduce officer interaction with the passenger time by 45 percent – from about 55 seconds to approximately 30 seconds – because it drastically reduces the administrative tasks from the officer inspection process. At the same time, however, it increases security by allowing officers to focus on the passenger instead of on paperwork. Today, eligible travelers can use APC kiosks to expedite their entry into the U.S. at 39 airports worldwide, including all major international airports in the United States.

Likewise, Mobile Passport Control, first made possible through a pilot arrangement between Airports Council International-North America and CBP, provides another example of our commitment to safe, secure, and streamlined travel. MPC allows eligible travelers to submit their passport information and customs declarations from their smartphones or tablets when they arrive at the airport. Since implementation, the MPC application has been downloaded more than 360,000 times and usage has grown steadily with more than 6,000 uses per week. This app – which is free, by the way – is now available at seven U.S. international airports. CBP plans to expand MPC to more airports this year, and we anticipate having the program operational at the top 20 international airports in the United States by the end of 2016.

At the top 25 airports, during Fiscal Year 2015 CBP confirmed an average of 33 percent of passengers used Global Entry, APCs, or MPC technology – compared to only 2.7 percent in Fiscal Year 2013.

Our Trusted Traveler programs provide excellent examples of what is possible through collaboration with the private sector.

In addition to partnership through innovation, CBP also works together with our stakeholders through public-private partnership programs authorized by Congress. For example, our Reimbursable Services Program allows CBP to work with our partners to provide services beyond what would otherwise be possible. Through February 6, 2016, CBP has been able to provide 106,000 hours of additional CBP officer overtime at participating airports. And we have seen great results: during the program’s first year, participating airports saw a remarkable 30 percent decrease in wait times – even though passenger volumes rose by seven percent.

CBP has also been working closely with the air industry and with foreign governments to secure and facilitate travel through its Preclearance program and through our expansion efforts. Through Preclearance, the same immigration, customs, and agriculture inspections of international air passengers performed on arrival in the United States can instead be completed before departure at foreign airports. This not only reduces wait times, but allows the United States and our international partners to jointly identify and address threats at the earliest possible point, before they reach our shores.

More than 17 million travelers went through one of CBP’s Preclearance locations in Canada, Ireland, the Caribbean, and the United Arab Emirates in Fiscal Year 2015. Accounting for 15 percent of total international air travel that year. DHS and CBP continue to have discussions with the 10 new airports, in 9 foreign countries identified as priority locations for air preclearance expansion.

And we expect to sign the first new air Preclearance Agreement within the next 6 months – and once the facility construction is complete, the new Preclearance airport would then be expected to begin processing flights within 18 months. We also expect discussions to continue with the remaining locations and foresee the opening of additional preclearance operations as negotiations conclude.

We have made considerable progress in our efforts to innovate, build efficiency, and transform the way we do business. And more opportunities lie ahead. As technology continues to advance, so do our opportunities to find new ways to enhance our operations, build greater efficiency, and fulfill our border security mission.

One of these technologies – biometrics – holds tremendous promise for CBP, because it addresses the dual nature of our mission when it comes to air passenger processing – balancing uncompromising vigilance with efficiency in the inspection process. As a security tool, biometrics are critical because they are the physical characteristics unique to each individual – such as fingerprints, iris images, or facial dimensions. When it comes to travel records, biometric data, along with biographic information, provides CBP the ability to make more informed decisions at entry and to process travelers more efficiently.

More than a decade ago, CBP implemented fingerprint biometrics as a valuable screening tool for CBP officers. More recently, we have been field testing and deploying further biometric capabilities in the air environment. Currently in field testing, Biometric Exit Mobile (BE-Mobile) technology is in place at 10 airports nationwide, and allows CBP to capture, by handheld mobile device, biometric exit data in the form of two fingerprints from a limited number of foreign national air travelers departing the United States. Likewise, CBP field tested and recently deployed facial comparison technology at JFK Airport in New York and at Washington-Dulles International.

Document fraud and identity theft, as we all know, is a tremendous problem, posing a threat to economic as well as national security.

This One-to-One facial comparison technology helps CBP officers biometrically confirm the identity of travelers – individuals age 18 and over – entering the United States – to ensure that the traveler is the rightful owner of his or her ePassport. A digital image of the traveler taken during the inspection process will be compared to the image that is stored on the traveler’s ePassport. This step adds a layer of security to the inspection process by confirming the identity of travelers seeking entry into the United States, and it enhances CBP’s crucial ability to match a traveler to their travel document.

I want to emphasize that we are committed to protecting the privacy of all travelers, and we have procedural and physical safeguards in place to make sure traveler data is secure. The images are only retained if CBP determines that further administrative or enforcement action is necessary.

We are now examining options to expand this capability nationwide to all of our land, sea, and air ports of entry.

Otay Mesa Pedestrian Field Test – For example, at the Otay Mesa, CA port of entry, CBP is testing new biometric technologies and processes to enhance identification of certain non-U.S. citizens entering and exiting the U.S, better match entry and exit records along the land border, and help protect a traveler’s identity against theft.

All of these innovations and efforts go to the very heart of one of our mutual goals – to develop a “facility of the future.” We are taking a hard look at how CBP’s facilities can maximize the use of the technologies I’ve described here today – from the arrival process to baggage claim to the interview and inspection process with the CBP officer.

This should result in a more flexible and nimble environment that allows CBP to maximize the use of its resources by having everything located in one single place in the terminal – instead of being spread across multiple levels or split between primary and egress. This should lead to more effective inspections, a more open feeling for travelers, and greater efficiency in the arrivals process.

In closing, I want to emphasize CBP’s commitment to working with you and your member companies to make the traveling public’s experience as safe, secure, and efficient as possible.

Thank you.

Last modified: 
February 8, 2017