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The Way Forward: Vision and Strategy 2020

Release Date: 
April 8, 2015

Remarks by Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 10:00 a.m.


Thank you, Darrell/Mr. West.

I’m very pleased to be at the Brookings Institution, which has such a remarkable history and which is a tremendous public policy resource.

The analysis you do shapes important debates about such a wide range of economic, social, and political issues – ranging from drug policy, to weapons, trafficking to tax reform.

And as you get ready to celebrate your 100th anniversary next year, the theme that unites your programs – governance and renewal – is one that we at CBP can readily embrace in our own quest to transform the way we achieve our increasingly complex mission.

I have been in office for just over a year, and I want to outline some of our progress as well as share CBP’s vision for the future.


CBP was created in 2003. At that time, each border function was separate. 

Different agencies performed inspections for immigration and admissibility, customs inspections of imports and exports, and agriculture inspections for items that could harm the nation’s crops, livestock, and natural resources. 

And – bureaucracies being what they are – communications between these various functions were not the greatest.

Today, our unified border agency allows us to craft a comprehensive strategy to secure our borders and support our economy.

With nearly 60,000 employees on the ground, on the water, and in the air, in the United States and abroad, CBP is one of the world’s largest law enforcement organizations, and the largest in this country.

Our mission is to keep terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

We enforce nearly 500 laws for 47 federal agencies, from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).   

  • Our law enforcement ranks include CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists – they are the men and women in the blue uniforms – who work at our ports of entry to provide border security and facilitate U.S. trade and travel.
  • We also have Border Patrol Agents who secure our border between our ports of entry.
  • And we have Air and Marine Interdiction Agents who patrol the skies and seas, supporting the Border Patrol as well as state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • In addition, we have thousands of non-uniformed professionals who manage trade issues, international affairs, cybersecurity, and other important facets of our complex mission.

Let’s take a typical day. (And here come the statistics – because you know that every Federal agency keeps track of this stuff…) 

On a typical day, based on Fiscal Year 2014 data, CBP:

  • Processes more than a million people at 328 land, air, and sea ports of entry.
  • Screens more than 70,000 truck, rail, and sea cargo containers.
  • Processes $4.4 billion in exports and $6.8 billion in imports.
  • Seizes more than $650,000 in unreported or illicit currency.
  • Discovers 425 pests and intercepts more than 4,400 prohibited plant and animal materials that could hurt U.S. crops, livestock, wildlife, and ecosystems.
  • Seizes $3.4 million worth of counterfeit products.
  • Apprehends more than 1,300 inadmissible people between our ports of entry.
  • Arrests 21 wanted criminals at our ports of entry.
  • Identifies 548 individuals with suspected national security concerns.
  • Intercepts 76 fraudulent documents.
  • Flies 213 enforcement missions over the United States.
  • Seizes more than 5 tons of drugs – including:

               -550 lbs. of cocaine;

               -81.4 lbs. of methamphetamine;  

               -15.4 lbs. of heroin; and

               -9,180 lbs. of marijuana;

And that’s just a “typical” day. 

But toss in the unexpected – like last year’s surge in the arrival of unaccompanied minors and families on our Southwest Border, and then the outbreak of Ebola that required enhanced screening at five major airports – and you can see that no day is truly “typical.”


If I could summarize my first year, it would come down to the “three Ts” – Travel, Trade, and Transparency.


Travel and tourism is vitally important to our nation’s economy, and CBP is committed to making sure that lawful travelers are allowed in while those who wish to do us harm are kept out.

In Fiscal Year 2014, CBP welcomed more than 107 million international air travelers – an increase of more than 4.5 percent over the previous fiscal year.  For those returning to the United States, the greeting is often “Welcome home.”

During the past five years, the United States has seen an increase of more than 19 million annual international travelers[1], and this growth has supported roughly 280,000 new American jobs.  These travelers spent more than $220 billion in 2014 alone.[2]

We are always mindful of the direct correlation between robust travel and tourism and a healthy American economy. 

But make no mistake: Border security remains our highest priority.

We constantly strive for a more efficient, risk-based strategy to successfully execute our dual mission of achieving the most secure border while facilitating lawful travel.

And CBP has always been committed to innovation. One great example is Automated Passport Control, or APC, which have been proven to reduce wait times by as much as 30 percent.

APC is a new technology that simplifies the processing of international travelers through the CBP arrivals process. Using kiosks, eligible travelers enter the United States more quickly and more efficiently – and at no charge and with no special enrollment required.

Last May, we set a goal of expanding our Automated Passport Control kiosks to 25 international airports here in the U.S. by the end of 2014.  Through partnerships among CBP, airports, and air carriers, we met that deadline in October.

Today, 34 U.S. airports offer Automated Passport Control, with a total of more than 900 kiosks – that’s tremendous progress in less than a year.

Travelers are embracing APC. A reporter for Condé Nast Traveler, for example, recently decided to review the technology when she arrived at JFK Airport. She stated that, thanks to APC, she had the shortest wait she’d ever had at that airport.[3]

Another example of our commitment to safe, secure, and streamlined travel is the award-winning mobile passport control app – now available in Miami and Atlanta and now Seattle.

It lets eligible travelers submit their passport information and customs declarations from their smartphones or tablets when they arrive at the airport.

Last September, the Mobile Passport Control app was recognized with a Future Travel Experience Award. Those annual awards are given to “organizations that have gone the extra mile to improve the passenger experience.”[4]

But our crowning achievement in terms of travel facilitation – which are often cited as a “best in government” program – is our Trusted Traveler Programs.

Through these programs, we expedite the processing of low-risk travelers arriving in the United States while enabling our CBP officers to focus on higher-risk travelers.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2014, an additional 1.5 million people enrolled in the agency’s Trusted Traveler Programs through Global Entry, as well as through SENTRI on our border with Mexico, and NEXUS on our border with Canada.

Global Entry allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S.  Members of Global Entry pay a fee and undergo background screening and receive “front of the line privileges and automatic membership in TSA’s PreCheck program. 

CBP’s primary goal, of course, remains keeping our borders secure and preventing those who would do us harm from crossing our border.

CBP is continually refining our risk-based strategy as well as our layered approach to security; extending our borders outward; and focusing our resources on the greatest risks to interdict threats before they reach the United States.

Preclearance – having CBP officers at foreign international airports to inspect travelers destined to the United States – provides CBP with the best means of identifying and addressing threats at the earliest possible point. 

In FY14, CBP pre-cleared approximately 17.5 million of more than 106 million total air passengers.  That’s 17 million people who didn’t have to wait in line at the airport when they arrived in the U.S.

We have preclearance facilities at more than a dozen foreign locations, including several in Canada.

This year, the U.S. intends to enter into negotiations to expand air preclearance operations to new locations around the globe, extending our reach and pushing our zone of border security outward.


Turning now to CBP’s role in the trade arena, during the past year, I’ve traveled all over the United States and all over the world.  I’ve gotten to see first-hand how integral our mission is to the nation’s economic health and vitality as well as to the safety and security of our global supply chain.

In Fiscal Year 2014, we cleared $2.5 trillion in imports, and $1.6 trillion in exports.  We processed 26 million cargo containers—and that was an increase of 4 percent over 2013.  And those numbers are rising.

Global commerce involves hundreds of different types of forms, and numerous federal agencies. The system can be time-consuming, and it can be costly for both the government and for private stakeholders.

Outside forces also can have a significant impact on our operations.

Last week, for example, I met with manufacturers and retail organizations who praised CBP for reducing the maritime cargo backlog in the wake of the recent West Coast labor dispute.  

CBP has really focused on streamlining and modernizing our trade processing and trade enforcement processes – what we call “trade transformation.”   

First, we’ve accelerated the deployment of our import/export processing system—the Automated Commercial Environment—“ACE.”  This is a huge shift – moving from paper-based and faxes and original signatures to faster, modernized, more cost-effective electronic submissions.

ACE is at the core of the Executive Order that was signed by President Obama in 2013, and it is the so-called “Single Window” that’s going to allow all relevant federal agencies to review and respond to cargo movement, to reduce costs and speed the cargo process. 

Another innovation is “eBond” – which lets customs brokers and other trade stakeholders electronically transmit bonds to CBP. Historically, in the paper-based system, they would receive CBP’s response in 4 or 5 days. With eBond, they can get bond approval within 10-15 seconds.

And that’s good for business.

Another key development in the trade environment is our Centers of Excellence and Expertise

The Centers are transforming the way we operate by consolidating the industry’s processing.  Instead of having to communicate with dozens of different ports of entry – and perhaps getting dozens of different responses – an importer can contact the Center designated for their particular line of business, whether it’s for apparel and footwear in San Francisco or pharmaceuticals in New York.   

These Centers improve our ability to identify high-risk cargo and importations.  They increase consistency and predictability for the industry. And that not only helps our trade stakeholders make better business decisions, it reduces costs for traders and CBP.

As in the travel environment, we have a risk-based system for the trade arena, too. Our Trusted Trader programs continue to grow.

Take, for example, ACAS – Air Cargo Advance Screening. ACAS was launched in the wake of a true terrorist threat, the explosives that were hidden in the printer toner cartridges and intercepted in express mail shipments from Yemen that were destined for the United States in 2010.

ACAS enables CBP and the Transportation Security Administration to jointly target and mitigate air cargo identified as “high risk” before it is loaded on the U.S.-bound aircraft. 

The cargo industry has recognized the value of the program, improving national security and integrity of the supply chain, and prevents major business disruption.   

In fact, ACAS membership has expanded by 15 percent during my first year and there are now 51 participants.

Our Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism – or “C-TPAT” – continues to build cooperative relationships with trade stakeholders that strengthen and improve the security of the international supply chain.

We’ve also focused on amplifying our international engagement.

Through our Container Security Initiative, CBP deploys teams of officers to foreign seaports to address the threat to border security and global trade posed by the potential use of maritime containers by terrorists and smugglers.

The program fosters information sharing between CBP and its foreign customs counterparts, and it pushes our zone of security outward.

Finally, a word about CBP’s international engagement.

The security and integrity of the global supply chain depends on international partnerships. 

CBP’s Trusted Trader programs, which I described a few minutes ago, align effectively with the Authorized Economic Operator programs being implemented by other countries – often with our input and training. 

CBP is also very active in the World Customs Organization.  I believe that our participation in the WCO plays a critical role in helping build and foster ties with our international allies.

That is why I was proud to nominate Ana Hinojosa, our Deputy Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs, to be the U.S. delegate to the WCO’s Director of Compliance and Facilitation.

If elected, Ana would bring considerable expertise to this international body, and her leadership can strengthen our work with key trade partners.

This last year, I signed three Mutual Recognition Arrangements—Mexico, Israel, and Singapore.  Last month, Secretary Jeh Johnson signed a preclearance agreement with Canada. That country’s Parliament will have to act to put that agreement into force.  

Mutual Recognition Arrangements are a critical tool in aligning standards to the international community. These arrangements provide a platform to exchange trusted trader information and to harmonize reciprocal supply chain security programs.

CBP has had 10 of these agreements in place since 2003, and other countries clearly recognize our leadership in harmonizing customs regulations and securing borders.

Turning now to the “third T” -


I am taking steps to make transparency and accountability hallmarks of my tenure at CBP.

The public’s trust in us depends on it. 

The vast majority of CBP employees do the right thing, every day.  They are truly dedicated public servants, committed to our mission. 

There are times in law enforcement when some level of force must be used to safeguard the public or protect an officer or agent. Historically, CBP’s default position was to circle the wagons and say, “No comment.”

One of the first things I did as Commissioner was change this, to make our policies and processes more transparent to the people we serve.

Every law enforcement agency is part of the ongoing and intense debate about how and when and where officers should use force.

A use of force can include a physical restraint, the use of an alternative device, or the application of lethal force.

CBP – particularly the U.S. Border Patrol – has come under increased scrutiny and criticism for using force during apprehensions.

March 31 marked the midway point of the 2015 fiscal year. We have recorded 385 total uses of force.   We are on track to reduce our use of force by nearly 30 percent.

In comparison, for the first half of Fiscal Year 2014, we reported a total of 542 uses of force, and the total that year was 1,037.

This reduction in the use of force is encouraging, considering that assaults against agents are trending upward.

As I said a moment ago, there are times when some level of force must be used. In those instances, the use of force must be justified and within CBP policy.

With that in mind, we have implemented a unified, formal review process for use of force incidents involving a death or serious bodily injury.

This review process will help us resolve use of force incidents in a timely and transparent manner. 

Training is also critical when it comes to use of force. We have issued new guidelines for all personnel and we have revamped our entire training curriculum to put agents in simulated field situations so they can practice their responses when they have to make a split-second decision.

Technology plays an important role here, too.

We have an agency-wide working group to evaluate the feasibility of incorporating body-worn cameras into the law enforcement operations in each of CBP’s operational environments – air, land, and sea, at and between our ports of entry.

We have also equipped and trained agents with less lethal devices that can protect them – tools that would be practical in the rugged terrains of the Border Patrol.

These include Tasers and equipment that incapacitate an aggressor. We have implemented these options because no apprehension – no seizure, no arrest, and no pursuit – is worth the risk of an agent – or a member of the public – being injured or killed.

And that brings me to something that is too often forgotten when we discuss the use of force:  There is a personal toll for every officer or agent who takes a life.

For many, it is a burden that they don’t anticipate – because, in fact, it is so rare – but when it does happen, it stays with them forever. 

In an op-ed for The Seattle Times last August, a friend of mine – former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr – said something that really hit home:  She said, “We need police officers with the skills and tenacity of a warrior, but the mindset of a guardian.”[5]

Certainly, this issue – policing in a democratic society – remains front and center for all law enforcement agencies, and CBP is no exception.

One of the primary ingredients of transparency, of course, is integrity. It’s one of CBP’s core values.

Last September, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson delegated to CBP the authority – for the first time ever – to police our own ranks and to investigate our employees for alleged criminal misconduct. We are implementing this authority and we are doing it in a transparent way.

Secretary Johnson also supported me in forming an Integrity Advisory Panel under the DHS Homeland Security Advisory Council. 

The Panel is co-chaired by former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy, and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. 

The panel is comprised of some of the best leaders in law enforcement, and I am confident that it will make a significant contribution to CBP’s culture of integrity and transparency.

We continue to emphasize the need for personal responsibility by every employee for ethical behavior, on and off duty.

Sometimes, law enforcement agencies have to respond to difficult situations that grab the attention of the media and generate interest from all kinds of stakeholders.

Transparency is critical in these situations.  But it is also important in other circumstances – let me give you an example from my first year as Commissioner.

Last spring and summer, there was an unprecedented surge in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children and their families – tens of thousands of them, primarily from Central America – who arrived at our Southwest Border.

These children are vulnerable to trafficking schemes by adults eager to take advantage of them.

Our agency’s response to that surge – and the response by the Department of Homeland Security in general – illustrates how our commitment to transparency and openness ultimately will benefit our relationship with the public we serve.

This was a border management issue, since nearly all the people we encountered turned themselves over to a Border Patrol agent or CBP officer. It was not a border security issue.

  • First, we never lost sight of our primary mission, which is to maintain the security and safety of our border. We deployed extra agents to the most affected areas, and we continued to stop smugglers and disrupt transnational criminal networks.
  • Second, we treated the children and families with professionalism and compassion. We recognized the situation as a humanitarian crisis, and I am proud of how our agents and officers conducted themselves, many of whom donated clothing to the families.
  • Third, we developed a multimedia, multiple-country awareness campaign called “Know the Facts” about how dangerous it is to make the journey north to the border, and in that campaign we emphasize that no legal papers or path to citizenship awaits those who cross illegally.

We took these actions under heavy public scrutiny. Throughout this process, we gave full disclosure to the press and public, while maintaining the privacy of the children in our care.

And our actions were strongly supported through the inspection process by the Inspector General and the department’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

This was a stressful and difficult experience for our employees, but they showed the world how CBP responds to this kind of crisis and I could not be prouder of them.

Those are just the highlights of my first year.

But what’s ahead?

What is CBP’s future?

 It’s called our “Vision and Strategy 2020.”


This is a real milestone for our agency.

It represents the first comprehensive strategic plan for our agency in nearly a decade.

It clearly recognizes that CBP must balance border security with enhancing our nation’s economic competitiveness.  They are two sides of the same coin.

CBP will continue to mature and advance the following strategic themes:

  • Collaboration - The complexity of CBP’s mission requires the Agency to serve as a global leader in delivering border security and expanding strategic partnerships.
  • Innovation - CBP must remain vigilant through innovative initiatives to continually advance and transform the Agency into a more agile and adaptable organization.
  • Integration - CBP must lead development of a seamless global network to integrate border enforcement capabilities and meet the demands of a constantly evolving landscape.

These three strategic themes – collaboration, innovation, and integration – have surfaced in various ways in the form of many of the accomplishments I outlined for you earlier.

They continue to permeate CBP’s culture – its “way of thinking.”

And these themes are essential to meeting our mission goals.

Specifically, CBP’s Vision & Strategy outlines four goals:

  • Combat terrorism and transnational organized crime;
  • Advance comprehensive border security and border management;
  • Enhance U.S. economic competitiveness by enabling lawful trade and travel; and
  • Promote organizational integration, innovation, and agility.

Our Vision and Strategy clearly outlines how we plan to enhance both our agility and our ability to meet these increasingly global and increasingly complex challenges.

We intend to lead and aggressively champion strategic partnerships that facilitate integrated, risk-informed, intelligence-driven law enforcement operations. 

This requires a national “whole of government” approach – as well as an international unity of effort.

We are also committed to transforming our trade and travel processes through the use of technology, public/private partnerships, and simplifying and integrating processing capabilities.

To do that, we must harmonize processes across ports of entry, including operational approaches to risk-management.

And we must continue to expand our risk-based strategy and constantly refine our information and data collection capabilities. Effective border management requires “layers” of security that must consider points of origin, modes of transit, the actual arrival at our borders, and even routes of “egress,” or departure from the physical border to a final destination.

Finally, CBP must strengthen its culture, and that culture depends on our ability to recruit, train, and retain exceptional people. Accomplishing our mission directly depends on our workforce, and we are committed to getting the very best people for the job.

That includes placing women in frontline positions to remain competitive with modern professional law enforcement operations.

Women comprise about 7 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps., for example. Only about 5 percent of the 21,000 agents in CBP’s Border Patrol are female.

With that in mind, we sought and obtained approval from the Office of Personnel Management for legal authority to specifically recruit women for entry-level Border Patrol positions located on our Southwest border.  To date, CBP has received more than 5,500 applications


In closing, let me emphasize that CBP intends to be the standard bearer for other customs and border security administrations around the globe.

Our core values of vigilance, service to country, and integrity will continue to serve as the bedrock of CBP’s culture – ensuring unwavering commitment to the highest levels of professionalism.

Our vision is crystal clear: To serve as the premier law enforcement agency enhancing the Nation’s safety, security, and prosperity through collaboration, innovation, and integration.

I appreciate this opportunity to share that vision with you here today.

Thank you.

[1] Report to the President: A National Goal on the International Arrivals Process and Airport-Specific Action Plans, Feb. 13, 2015. Submitted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Commerce.

[2] White House FACT SHEET: Supporting Travel and Tourism to Grow Our Economy by Improving the Arrivals Experience for International Travelers to the US, Feb. 13, 2015.

[3] “Do Self-Service Kiosks at Airport Customs Actually Save Time?” by Barbara Peterson. Condé Nast Traveler, April 3, 2015.

[4] “4th FTE Awards recognize United, Air France-KLM, U.S. CBP, Etihad, American Airlines, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines and Emirates,” Sept. 26, 2014.

[5] Guest: From warriors to guardians – returning American police culture to democratic ideals. Aug. 26, 2014.

Last modified: 
July 5, 2017