by Arturo Bujanda and Bob Trotter
Border wait times (BWTs) have gotten longer in the past decade or so. Between increased trade (a good thing) resulting from expanding agreements between the United States and Mexico and enhanced security following 9/11 (a necessary thing), it’s understandable. But time is money when you’re idling at the border, and reducing wait times without compromising security isn’t easy with today’s federal budget constraints.
Current federal law vests the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with the responsibility for enforcing immigration laws and ensuring trade and agriculture compliance, while also facilitating the lawful trade and travel critical to the U.S. economy. Sometimes these two mandates can seem at odds with one another. Facilitating trade requires the efficient movement of goods from one side of the border to the other. Enforcing immigration laws and ensuring compliance of goods with federal trade requirements—including security measures intended to protect U.S. citizens from terroristic threats—takes time.
To help ease the burden on facilities and personnel, federal legislation has made it possible for local municipalities to enter into public-private partnerships (P3s) to help CBP manage its trade volume more efficiently without compromising safety. My team and I are currently researching the effectiveness of such an agreement between El Paso and the CBP. Our goals are to
- Assist CBP officials and City of El Paso policy makers in better understanding the benefits and limitations of the P3 program.
- Document lessons learned and identify best practices.
- Identify opportunities for agreements between CBP and other ports of entry in the future.
We’ll be assessing, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the cost-benefit of the program as it relates to El Paso. The city’s primary support for the local CBP would help to provide additional CBP personnel via increased toll rates (of 50 cents per vehicle) on the Ysleta Bridge. It’s expected that the City of El Paso will raise an additional $1.5 million to fund the increased CBP staff. Reducing wait times by providing more officers should see benefits accrue to El Paso in the form of additional trade share. But answering that very question—is it worth it to El Paso to support additional personnel at the CBP?—is the purpose for our study.
Here’s what we know: trade is increasing, the need for security has never been greater, and somehow agencies responsible for regulating those two things at the same time need the resources necessary to effectively manage them. Our research will hopefully help policy makers determine if those resources can come, in part at least, from reimbursable fee agreements via public-private partnerships.
Arturo Bujanda is an assistant research scientist and Bob Trotter is a senior research scientist with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.