International Air Passengers:

Staffing Model for Airport Inspections Personnel Can Be Improved

GAO-05-663: Published: Jul 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2005.

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While the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Protection Act repealed a 45 minute standard for inspecting international passengers, minimizing wait times at airports remains an area of concern for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Shortly after its creation in March 2003, CBP assumed inspection functions from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Agriculture. The new agency's priority missions are to prevent terrorism and to facilitate travel and trade. To assess CBP's efforts to minimize wait times for international air passengers while ensuring security, this report answers the following questions: (1) What are the wait times at the 20 U.S. international airports that receive most of the international traffic and what factors affect wait times? (2) What steps have airports and airlines taken to minimize passenger wait times? (3) How has CBP managed staffing to minimize wait times across airports?

The amount of time passengers from international locations have to wait before completing CBP inspections to enter the United States varies within and across airports. On average, CBP processed passengers within 45 minutes during the 2-month period for which data were available, although some flights had significantly longer wait times. Based on our observations and analysis as well as our discussions with airport and CBP officials, we determined that the primary factors affecting wait time are passenger volume, the number of inspection stations available at an airport, and the number of CBP officers available to conduct inspections. These factors, in different combinations at each airport, affect passenger wait times. Three of the five international airports we visited had built new or expanded federal inspection facilities to accommodate future growth in passenger volume and minimize wait times for internationally arriving passengers. Additionally, some airports assigned staff to assist passengers in preparing documentation to minimize wait times. Airline officials we spoke to acknowledged that large volumes of arriving passengers may increase wait times, but said that, to accommodate market demand, airlines do not spread flight arrivals throughout the day. CBP, in its efforts to minimize passenger wait times at airports, has taken steps to increase the efficient use of existing staff at airports. For example, CBP is cross-training its officers so that they can conduct different types of inspections. CBP is also developing a staffing model to allocate staff among its ports. However, the new model fails to address weaknesses identified in assessments of staffing models used previously by Customs and INS, such as not including wait times as a performance measure. CBP also has not developed milestones for completing its staffing model and cross-training program at all ports. Until these weaknesses are addressed, CBP will be hampered in forming a basis for management decision-making concerning staff allocation and staff needs and providing budget justifications.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the agency's formal comments on our report, CBP's staffing model working group started to systematically solicit input from the field offices on their staffing needs. CBP Headquarters provided a spreadsheet to each field office requesting specific information be filled in and returned to the group by the end of June 2005. Examples of information being captured in the spreadsheet include the number of crossings or other locations under a duty location, the number of vehicle, cargo, rail and pedestrian lines, the number of primary lanes, whether or not it is air, land, or sea, the number of hours the location is staffed and how many staff are dedicated to operations, etc. Preliminary information not previously captured should provide additional data to utilize as a measure within the model. A proposal was approved in May 2005 that would require field offices update the spreadsheet quarterly until the Office of Field Operations had complete confidence in the staffing model.

    Recommendation: To assist CBP in its efforts to develop a staffing model that will help provide a basis for budget justifications and management decision-making and to establish goals and performance measures to assess its progress in completing its staffing model and its cross-training program, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to systematically solicit input from the field on staffing needs and include uniform, agencywide guidance on how they should assess their needs and environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 2, 2006, CBP sent a memorandum to the directors of its field operations that detailed the agency's plans to use its new staffing model to to take a more systematic approach to staffing and determine the optimal level of inspection staff at CBP ports of entry. Evidence gathered during our 2007 review of CBP's implementation of its One Face at the Border Program confirmed the agency's implementation of the staffing model.

    Recommendation: To assist CBP in its efforts to develop a staffing model that will help provide a basis for budget justifications and management decision-making and to establish goals and performance measures to assess its progress in completing its staffing model and its cross-training program, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to use the staffing model under development to determine the optimal number of staff at each airport nationwide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 2, 2006, CBP sent memorandum to the directors of its field operations that detailed the agency's plans to implement a new staffing model that incorporates processing times as a performance measure. According to CBP contract officials, the agency plans to systematically solicit information from airport personnel regarding passenger wait times to assess the level of CBP staff (and thereby incorporate passenger wait time as a performance measure.) Evidence gathered during our 2007 review of CBP's implementation of its One Face at the Border Program confirmed the agency's implementation of the staffing model.

    Recommendation: To assist CBP in its efforts to develop a staffing model that will help provide a basis for budget justifications and management decision-making and to establish goals and performance measures to assess its progress in completing its staffing model and its cross-training program, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to incorporate wait time performance measures in the staffing model currently under development as required by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Protection Act of 2002.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, CBP requested its field offices update their plans regarding the cross-training CBP officers. In November 2006, CBP's field offices prepared plans for providing cross-training to CBP officers. The plans contained the number of CBP officers that (1) Already had been trained for specific cross-training courses; (2) Field office management believed still needed to be trained; (3) The field office planned to train each month in fiscal year 2007; and (4) The field office planned to train in fiscal years 2008 and beyond. CBP headquarters officials told us that they would use these plans to monitor field office progress in providing training recognizing that work demands and other factors could impact the field office's ability to provide training as planned.

    Recommendation: To assist CBP in its efforts to develop a staffing model that will help provide a basis for budget justifications and management decision-making and to establish goals and performance measures to assess its progress in completing its staffing model and its cross-training program, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide ports with targets and milestones for having staff cross-trained to measure the progress of its One Face at the Border program while being sensitive to work demands in setting training schedules.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 2, 2006, CBP sent a memorandum to the directors of its field operations that detailed the agency's schedule for implementing its new staffing model. According to the memo, the model will be rolled out to all airports by 10/31/06 and will be completely implemented at all other CBP ports of entry by the end of the 2nd Quarter FY 2007. Evidence gathered during our 2007 review of CBP's implementation of its One Face at the Border Program confirmed the agency's implementation of this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To assist CBP in its efforts to develop a staffing model that will help provide a basis for budget justifications and management decision-making and to establish goals and performance measures to assess its progress in completing its staffing model and its cross-training program, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to set out milestones for completing CBP's planned staffing model.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

 

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