U.S. Customs and Border Protection is expanding its industry partnerships – especially small- and mid-sized businesses – to make sure the agency secures the nation’s borders while facilitating lawful travel and trade. That was the message CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan delivered to a group of CEOs from the federal homeland and national security sector on Oct. 2 just outside of Washington.
“We’ve developed a strategy to move at the speed of business,” McAleenan told about 300 attendees of the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s CBP Day held in Arlington, Va. “This group has the creativity, the innovative spirit and the types of the solutions that we need to continue to advance and enhance our mission against our really broad responsibilities.”
As an example, he pointed to partnerships with the travel industry in the past several years to move people through airports more quickly, using biometrics and facial-recognition software to reduce wait times to be processed by a CBP officer. Despite 25 percent growth in travel over the past five years, CBP reduced those wait times by 20 percent, thanks in part to the new technologies that come from businesses like the ones in the coalition. International flights are taking less than half the time to board than they used to, and entering the U.S. for those international travelers is down from a couple of minutes to just 30 seconds. In addition, the commissioner cited a scenario in which a family of five headed to Orlando could have one picture taken at the airport that confirms the identity of all five travelers at the same time, instead of the 10-12 minute process for the entire family. “That’s a game changer for us,” he said.
Not only is facial recognition technology making travel more convenient, it’s making it more secure. It has already caught three imposters trying to pass for someone else at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
Trade is another way business is helping CBP. About $4 trillion worth of goods crosses U.S. borders every year in many ways, from container ships to individual parcels through international mail. That’s a lot of opportunities to impact the safety and security of Americans, as well as affecting international fair trade practices. Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner in CBP’s Office of Trade, said the international trade community has really changed in the past couple of years as new agreements are negotiated. CBP has a plan to improve the security of trade lanes, facilitate legitimate trade, enforce U.S. laws more efficiently, and best use the limited resources CBP has to accomplish all of this. Technology developed by private industry helps CBP enforce policies in a timely way in the ever-changing trade environment to stop “bad actors.”
“I need to be able to do that comprehensively, and I need to be able to do that expeditiously,” Smith said. “Swift justice is critical to be able to deter somebody from future bad behavior.”
Other CBP speakers at the event talked about a variety of issues, from how these small businesses develop technologies that keep Border Patrol and air interdiction agents more situationally aware in the field to developing better procurement procedures for those in CBP who contract these businesses to do a fair amount of work.
Sonny Bhagowalia, the deputy assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Information and Technology, wrapped up the daylong meeting talking about how CBP is digitizing much of what it does. He pointed out how his office and industry work together for a common commitment to the nation.
“I never forget whom we serve,” Bhagowalia said. “And I know you join me in that mission. Because that’s what drives us. All the rest of the stuff is just business. The mission is what makes it all real.”
McAleenan said industry is critical to successfully meeting the challenges CBP faces, whether it’s securing the border from illegal immigration or thwarting transnational criminal and terrorist organizations that run drugs into this country.
“Companies like yours are vital to our operational success,” he said, pointing out CBP buys everything from mobile apps to helicopters from small businesses to accomplish its mission. “So it’s a really critical priority for us to support small and medium enterprises. We’re going to continue this partnership. We can’t succeed in our mission without your help.”