CBP Policymakers and Field Managers Converge at Trade Conference
It was a meeting of the minds when CBP policymakers and field managers gathered last week at the agency's fourth national Trade Conference in Arlington, Va. The four-day conference, held June 22-25, drew nearly 200 participants from throughout the country to exchange ideas and discuss CBP's new and changing policies.
For many who attended, it was their first opportunity to hear Commissioner Bersin speak in person. The Commissioner opened the conference by greeting attendees with his trade vision for the future. Hosted by CBP's Office of International Trade, the conference, entitled "One CBP: Enhancing the Trade Mission through Modernization, Enforcement, and Collaboration," featured more than 30 presentations and work-group discussions. It also included the event's first "Trade Day," where members of the trade community gave attendees an industry perspective.
"My overall assessment is that this was a highly productive conference," said Michael Mitchell, director of trade operations for CBP's Office of Field Operations. "The first three days allowed CBP to communicate internally about ways to improve our processing. The last day we brought our stakeholders in to talk to us so that we could incorporate their views in the decisions we make going forward."
A number of topics were covered in the conference presentations and work-group discussions. These included an initial, internal rollout of CBP's new "Five-Year Strategy for Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement." The five-year plan was drafted late last year when CBP policymakers realized that the problem was so vast that a new enforcement approach was needed.
"Our plan is an ambitious, groundbreaking strategy that attacks intellectual property rights infringement not just at the physical border as goods arrive, but also overseas before their arrival, and after they arrive," said Therese Randazzo, CBP's intellectual property rights policy and programs director. "The plan also contains a lot of new approaches such as an increased pursuit of counterfeiters and pirates responsible for bringing these goods to the United States."
Another presentation, "Working with Other Government Agencies," gave attendees an opportunity to speak directly with other agencies about changing processes. CBP enforces more than 400 trade laws for nearly 50 U.S. government agencies. The Consumer Products Safety Commission's new detention policy, which went into effect on June 14, was among those that were highlighted. The new policy now gives the Commission authority to detain potentially hazardous, imported merchandise at the border.
"We wanted to make sure that field personnel understood how this new policy is going to be implemented, said Cathy Sauceda, CBP's import safety and inter-agency requirements director. "Historically, since the Consumer Products Safety Commission was created in the 1970s, we have been detaining merchandise for them. Our field personnel are very used to the process, so we needed to make sure that everybody is now on the same page."
In terms of modernization, Sauceda also introduced the blueprint for the International Trade Data System to CBP's field personnel for the first time. The system, which is still in the design stage, will ultimately enable the trade community to submit data to various agencies within the U.S. government through CBP, the enforcement agency.
"We made a huge step forward by finishing our concept of operations last December," said Sauceda. "The blueprint maps out how data will flow within the government from agency to agency. When the International Trade Data System is built, the trade community will be able to track merchandise and know which agency to contact if their merchandise is being detained."
Among the many workshops that were held at the conference was a panel discussion on how to enhance the penalty and collection process.
"This was a rare opportunity for CBP's policymakers to have face-to-face interaction with the resources who carry out the trade enforcement policies that we set," said Don Yando, CBP's executive director of commercial targeting and enforcement, the moderator of the discussions.
One of the areas covered was what CBP is doing to help enhance intellectual property rights enforcement efforts and the changes to some of the existing policies.
"We're changing the policy so that the field will issue the penalty at the domestic value rather than the manufacturer's suggested retail price," said Yando. "In other words, with the change of policy, the penalty will be issued at the value of the fake items being sold on the street. This will lower the penalties, but the goal is to make the penalty amount more reflective of the issue. Most of the people importing these items are not large, large companies."
In one instance, managers from the field gave a presentation geared for policymakers. "Managing Trade at the Port," began with brief presentations on each of the various trade positions in the field including a CBP officer; agriculture specialist; entry specialist; drawback specialist; import specialist; assistant port director; fines, penalties and forfeiture officer and an assistant director of trade operations at a CBP field office.
"We wanted to portray what all of the positions in the field are currently doing on a day-to-day basis," said Lynn Fallik, assistant director of trade operations at CBP's Houston Field Office.
The second part of the discussion provided feedback to policymakers at CBP's headquarters. One request asked policymakers to send draft policies to the field before implementation.
"The specialist positions at the port, the people who do the work every day, have the greatest exposure and experience in these particular programs," said Fallik. "If headquarters would allow us to provide some input, it would go a long way towards greater efficiency in the field and facilitating trade."
Still another presentation shared the initial findings of a special enforcement operation called "Operation Mirage." The initiative started nearly two years ago when CBP partnered with ICE to determine if Chinese textile products entering the U.S. were undervalued. Retailers were contacting CBP after noticing that the Customs entries they received from middlemen importers did not accurately reflect the goods they had purchased.
"The goods were described differently, were grossly undervalued, and the quantities were not the same," said Janet Labuda, the director of CBP's textile/apparel policy and programs division.
After attempting to visit importers who were selected from a nationwide, scientific, statistical sampling, it was discovered that a fraud scam was taking place.
"The importers are fly-by-night, bogus, shell companies," said Labuda. "Some of these people have already morphed into their next identity. This is going to be an ongoing initiative."
On June 25, the final day of the conference, CBP hosted its first "Trade Day." Members from the trade community participated in two panel discussions on importing and exporting from a small business perspective and improving trade facilitation from the industry's point of view. One suggestion that was made by both panels was to provide cross-training between CBP and the trade community.
"Customs sees things from the perspective of Customs -- not often having the opportunity to step into the shoes of the importer and see things from their perspective," said Tom Gould, principal of Tom Gould Customs Consulting Inc., one of the panelists. To me, the idea of training has got to be a two-way street."
CBP officials agree.
"We're going to explore all of the possibilities of partnering with business and industry to improve our training," said Mitchell, who moderated one of the Trade Day sessions. "Some ports have already had this type of interaction."
The importance of standardization was also emphasized.
"We find we're much more efficient, and equally if not more important, we're a lot more effective if we have a common global process," said Debbie Turnbull, executive program manager of IBM Corporation's supply chain security. "It's a challenge if you do a process 172 different ways or in 172 different countries. We find if we can have a consistent process that we follow at all ports, then we're more effective in executing that process."
One of the highlights of the day was having the opportunity to hear from small businesses.
"We are especially interested in finding better ways to reach small- and mid-sized businesses," said Kim Marsho, CBP's director of trade relations.
"Just inviting trade for a discussion with CBP [today] was a huge first step," said Sue Spero, the president of Carrier Service of Tennessee, a third party logistics provider.
However, Spero voiced her frustration over not being able to join CBP's security supply chain partnership program known as C-TPAT.
"The major issue of my industry today is our exclusion from the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism" program, said Spero. "It's very important for us to be included because we literally assess and keep regulatory information on thousands of small carriers in the United States. We have thousands of shipments crossing the borders in NAFTA countries today. So it's very important that we would be involved in the security of our country."
CBP's Mitchell noted that this is one of the areas under review at the agency. "We're looking into creating a single partnership program that may someday reach industries that are currently excluded," said Mitchell.
Many of those who participated in the conference found it extremely worthwhile.
"This was my first trade conference and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend," said Wanda Vela, a fines, penalties, and forfeitures officer based at the Port of Detroit. "Sometimes when we're out in the day-to-day operations, we lose sight of the critical importance of the facilitation side of the house and how it impacts our economic security and competitiveness as a nation. But we can't lose sight of the enforcement side either. As the Commissioner said, neither one is exclusive in and of itself. We have to maintain a balance."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.