A New Sheriff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection
March 6, 2014
The Senate has confirmed Gil Kerlikowske as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today. This confirmation is long overdue and will provide proven leadership to an agency whose mission set has grown exponentially since 9/11. The sheer number of CBP’s daily workload – nearly 1 million travelers crossing the border, billions of dollars of imported cargo, over 1,000 arrests – and the size of CBP’s workforce which is now over 60,000 shed some light on the magnitude of CBP’s duties.However, it is not only the volume but the need to find the literal needles in the haystack – terrorists, criminals, agricultural threats, and weapons – that makes this agency much more important than your average sub-cabinet bureau.
CBP has been without a Senate-confirmed Commissioner since 2009, largely due to jurisdictional disputes between Congress and the Administration. In the meantime, CBP’s career leadership, particularly Acting Commissioner Tom Winkowski and Acting Deputy Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, has shown great foresight in implementing technology and risk management, particularly at our ports of entry. Congress has rewarded CBP with steady increases in funding even as the rest of the DHS budget has suffered under the sequester and discretionary budget cuts.
Kerlikowske brings an impressive mix of skills to the job. In his former senior management positions – as Drug Czar, Police Chief in Seattle and Buffalo, and in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office at the Department of Justice – he has melded law enforcement duties with a broader sense of political and economic policy know-how. The fact that not a single member of the Senate Finance Committee opposed a nominee who will be leading the charge on border security, trade facilitation, and counter-narcotics shows a level of bipartisan buy-in to this nomination unusual in these partisan times.
Running CBP is a major challenge and no doubt there will be operational, organizational and budgetary hurdles ahead for Mr. Kerlikowske. However, the country is lucky to have this type of professionalism taking charge at one of our most critical agencies.
Stewart Verdery is a non-resident Senior Associate with the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program.
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