Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection senior executive service leaders – Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner, Office of Trade and AnnMarie Highsmith, deputy chief counsel, Office of Chief Counsel – were recently honored with the 2017 Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank Award. This prestigious award, the highest award in civil service, recognizes individuals who have made significant and sustained contributions to their agency and only 1 percent of government executives may receive this rank.
Additionally, Todd Owen, Office of Field Operations executive assistant commissioner, received the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the second highest recognition. No more than 5 percent of government executives may receive this award.
Smith has held several trade and border enforcement leadership positions since joining CBP in 1994. In her current role, she’s responsible for leading the modernization of CBP’s trade policy, enhancing collaboration with partner government agencies and the trade community, and advancing trade process automation. Her duties also include directing enforcement programs for priority trade issues, such as intellectual property rights and anti-dumping and countervailing duty, and overseeing trade operations and audits. Previously, Smith served as executive director for the Automated Commercial Environment Business Office, which provides importers and exporters with streamlined and simplified trade processing.
The award recognizes Smith’s achievements in enhancing CBP’s enforcement of trade laws and regulations to protect American consumers and businesses, and aligning customs procedures with modern business practices to facilitate the import process and enhance U.S. economic competitiveness.
Highsmith joined the senior executive service in 2006 as the associate chief counsel for trade and finance, serving as the principal legal advisor on a broad range of customs, procurement and fiscal matters. She played a leading role during CBP’s construction of tactical infrastructure along the southwest border mandated by the Secure Fence Act. She developed legal strategies and redesigned processes to deter fraud, improve trade compliance and collect hundreds of millions of dollars in debts owed to the government. She also worked to expand CBP’s inspectional services through public-private partnerships, including undertaking responsibility for negotiations to establish the largest user fee facility in CBP’s history with the Tijuana Cross Border Terminal.
In 2013, Highsmith was selected as the deputy chief counsel. Under Highsmith’s leadership, the Office of Chief Counsel has grown from a staff of 281 in 26 locations to over 360 in 30 nationwide offices. In her first 3 years as deputy chief counsel, she secured a 25 percent budget increase for her office.
Owen began his CBP career in 1990 as an import specialist. He now oversees more than 29,000 employees, including more than 24,000 officers and agriculture specialists. Owen manages a $5.2 billion budget that supports CBP's ports of entry along with numerous national security, trade and lawful-travel programs.
Previously, Owen was the director of field operations for the Los Angeles Field Office, responsible for all CBP operations in the greater Los Angeles area, including Los Angeles International Airport, the twin Los Angeles/Long Beach seaports and Las Vegas International Airport.
The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 established the Presidential Rank Awards Program, and earning the accolade is no small feat. Nominees are selected by their agency heads and then survive a rigorous review by government officials and private citizens before the selectees are finally forwarded to the president for approval.