Facing smaller budgets and growing volumes of traffic throughout the nation's ports of entry, Customs and Border Protection has sought help from the private market to make up the gap. Now the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security is considering whether those public-private pilot programs should be permanently extended.
The land ports of entry manned by CBP include border crossings with Canada and Mexico, where its estimated that more than $2 billion in goods cross daily.
Rep. Candice Miller, R.-Mich., chairman of the subcommittee, noted that while Congress appropriated $2 billion for port of entry construction, it would take between $4 and $6 billion to modernize them.
The private sector seems to have made up some of the difference after Congress authorized a plot program allowing CBP and GSA to enter into public-private partnerships to make up staffing and modernization gaps. These reimbursable service agreements allow CBP to expand services in peak times with its partners reimbursing them for the costs.
Partnerships were established in California, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Texas in 2014, following five agreements set up throughout Texas in 2013.
John Wagner, CBP's deputy assistant commissioner for field operations, said the partnerships had helped the agency keep its wait times low enough for traffic to flow smoothly.
"Among the participating airports, the added hours and supplementary lane openings, in conjunction with other passenger processing initiatives, have helped decrease wait times by an average of almost 30 percent while traveler volume has increased about 7 percent," he said.
David Garcia, a county administrator for Texas' Cameron County—the state's southernmost border— said the benefits of the partnerships were apparent, but the time needed to establish them required a deep commitment from the federal government to be realized.
"From development standpoint, these projects take a number of years to get off the ground through construction, so to have an amount of certainty with these programs helps us out," he said.
Miller called for the expansion of that program, noting that while budgets are shrinking, the partnerships allow for CBP to keep up with both volume and infrastructure updates.
"I believe we need to tap into the expertise and willingness of the private sector, and partner with them to come up with better, more cost effective approaches for new port of entry construction, modernization and staffing needs," she said.