A new agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection could bring more inspectors at peak times
By Arlene Satchell, Sun Sentinel
Customs processing for cruise passengers and cargo shipments at Port Everglades is expected to get a boost under a new agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Fort Lauderdale seaport is one of 16 new partners in a program that allows the private sector and state and local governments to reimburse customs for expanded services to improve inspection times.
Everglades and other ports have struggled for years with issues of inadequate customs staffing as their passenger traffic grows. The new program allows for the addition of custom officers when port traffic surges, such as the arrival of a late cruise ship or when a shipment of perishable goods must be processed during off hours.
“We believe this new U.S. Customs & Border Protection program will be an added value to Port Everglades and our customers,” said Glenn Wiltshire, deputy director.
The port’s customers will be responsible for requesting support and reimbursing the cost of additional services, Wiltshire said. Those customers may include cruise lines, cargo terminal operators and ocean shipping lines.
Port Everglades officials will meet with the customs agency soon to develop specific procedures for implementing the program and developing an agreement that will be brought to Broward County board of commissioners for approval.
Before applying for the program, the seaport polled customers to gauge interest in participating and received positive response, officials said.
South Florida seaports and airports have lobbied for more federal government assistance to ensure their facilities are sufficiently staffed with customs officers as they grow and serve more travel and trade customers.
In February 2013, airport and port officials made their case for more staffing and extended processing hours to Janet Napolitano, then secretary of the Department of Homeland, as she toured customs and security operations at Port Everglades and Miami International Airport.
Last July, MIA became one of the first five government agencies selected to participate in the program. The airport’s operator — Miami-Dade Aviation Department — has said it will spend up to $6 million over five years from its operating budget to pay for additional overtime hours.
At MIA and two other airports included in the program last year, customs has added staff, additional lane openings and automated passport processing technology, which has helped to decrease wait times by an average of nearly 30 percent, the agency said.
Customs is “transforming the way we do business to efficiently process the growing number of travelers each year,” Acting Deputy Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said in a statement. “These partnerships allow us to remain a strong global competitor and destination for businesses and travelers.”