Sens. Brown, Cantwell, Blumenthal, and Baldwin Urge DHS to Increase Staffing at West Coast Ports and Make Long-Term Investments in Port Infrastructure

Backlogs Persist at Seattle, Long Beach, and Los Angeles Ports Holding Up American Exports. Letter Follows Concerns from Ohio Companies That Backlog Was Impacting Their Business

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) today urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to increase Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing at the Ports of Seattle, Long Beach, and Los Angeles to give these ports the ability to expeditiously process their container backlogs, which the ports estimate could take up to two months.

“Efficient ports are key to American competitiveness and to boosting U.S. exports,” said the Senators in their letter. “We urge you to increase CBP personnel at west coast ports quickly so the backlog of containers can be processed. In addition, we ask you to work with us to make investments in U.S. port infrastructure a priority.”

The letter follows concerns from Ohio companies whose businesses were affected because of the backlogs, underscoring the importance of port efficiency to American competitiveness. 

CBP personnel at ports are responsible for inspecting cargo and passengers at U.S. ports. Last month, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) reached a tentative agreement to address short-term productivity issues at the ports. While ports have made progress, backlogs continue and more personnel are needed. President Obama’s FY 2016 Budget calls for resources to hire and train up to 2,000 new CBP officers to help process and inspect cargo.

The full text of the letter is below and available here.

 

April 2, 2015

 

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Secretary Johnson:

Now that the contract negotiations between labor and management at the west coast ports have ended, we ask you to increase staffing of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Long Beach, and Los Angeles to ensure that the backlog of containers can be processed expeditiously. We also ask that you work with us to make funding upgrades to U.S. port infrastructure a priority.  Efficient ports are key to American competitiveness and to boosting U.S. exports. 

Since a tentative agreement between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) was reached at the end of last month, the ports have made progress processing cargo, but a backlog persists.  According to port officials in Los Angeles and Long Beach, dozens of ships with thousands of cargo containers are waiting to be unloaded, and clearing them will take three months.  There are fewer cargo ships anchored in the Puget Sound, but companies still assume it will take between two and three months for Seattle’s backlog to be cleared.  Additional CBP personnel at these ports will increase the number of inspections that can be completed and speed up the processing of the containers.

Port capacity and efficiency are critical to American companies’ ability to compete in a global economy.   Unfortunately, our ports are simply incapable of accommodating the growing flows of imports and exports.  The tentative contract agreement between the ILWU and the PMA will address short-term productivity issues, but congestion will continue to plague all major U.S. ports unless they are modernized and expanded.  We appreciate that the President’s fiscal year 2016 budget included additional resources to hire and train up to 2,000 new CBP officers to process and inspect passengers and cargo at our ports, but we need to make significant investments in our port infrastructure to maintain U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century. 

We urge you to increase CBP personnel at west coast ports quickly so the backlog of containers can be processed.  In addition, we ask you to work with us to make investments in U.S. port infrastructure a priority.  Thank you for your consideration of this letter, and we look forward to working with you to boost American competitiveness.

Sincerely,

 

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

 

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