The Border Trade Alliance applauded Congress’ adoption of an omnibus budget agreement that includes language allowing border communities to dramatically improve the infrastructure and staffing levels at their ports of entry. The bill also funds an additional 2,000 Customs and Border Protection officers.
Under the omnibus, local communities and private sector entities will be able to enter into agreements with the federal government to fund infrastructure improvements and staffing at ports of entry. The authority expands on language adopted by Congress last year that allowed for five pilot projects between local partners and Customs and Border Protection to improve staffing levels. Two of those pilot programs, one by the city of El Paso and another by a consortium in South Texas, signed reimbursable fee agreements with CBP last month.
Section 559 of the bill, which grants the expanded public-private partnership ability, was made possible by the leadership in the House of Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) and subcommittee member Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and in the Senate by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“We applaud Chairman Carter, Rep. Cuellar and Sen. Cornyn for working in a bipartisan way to seek an innovative solution to the border’s infrastructure challenges,” Border Trade Alliance Chairman Jesse Hereford said. “In the light of constrained federal budgets, we appreciate their willingness to work with border trade stakeholders to find new ways to fund staffing and port improvements.”
Rep. Carter traveled to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas last year and heard from City of McAllen Superintendent of Bridges Rigo Villarreal of that city’s inability to use city funds to improve the capacity of the Anzalduas International Bridge, and he heard from Cameron County Administrator Pete Sepulveda regarding the issues with the West Rail International Bridge.
“We appreciate Rep. Cuellar and Rep. Filemón Vela helping to facilitate Chairman Carter’s visit to the Valley,” BTA President Noe Garcia, III said. “This language is a direct result of leaders in Congress working together to find solutions for the border.”
Rep. John Carter
“The public-private partnerships this bill creates will help us secure our borders while building a stronger economy and creating jobs at home in the United States. This summer I was able to visit several of our ports of entry in south Texas including the West Rail International Bridge in Cameron County and the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas. The opportunities these partnerships will provide by leveraging local and private dollars in these communities will help to increase trade and create jobs throughout Texas and the entire country.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar
“Delays at the border cause the U.S. economy to lose billions of dollars in trade and commerce. Public-private partnerships provide an opportunity for state and local governments and business to step in where the federal government falls short. The passage of this initiative will allow the private sector to invest in infrastructure improvements at our ports of entry will be a win for border communities and the entire state of Texas. I thank Chairman Carter for his leadership on this issue and his willing to work with me and congratulate the ports that will benefit.”
Hereford said the passage of the bill was timely in light of conditions at many of the country’s aging ports of entry. “With CBP reporting that it would take $6 billion to bring our ports - which average 40 years of age – to a level reflective of today’s trade volumes, this is the right policy at the right time.”
The bill funds CBP at $110 million over the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, which will allow for the hiring of an additional 2,000 CBP officers at the nation’s busiest ports of entry.
“In past budget allocations, staffing at our ports, which has a direct correlation to our economic competitiveness, has not received the attention it deserves,” Garcia said. “Congress deserves credit for making cross-border trade and security a priority in this bill.”