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Bruce Murley, CBP Office of Field Operations, Area Port Director - Honolulu, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce & the District of Columbia on "Safeguarding Hawaii's Ecosystem and Agriculture against Invasive Species"

Release Date: 
October 26, 2011

Honolulu, Hawaii

Introduction

Good morning Chairman Akaka, I am pleased to appear before you today alongside my colleagues from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service (USDA/APHIS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to discuss our role in helping protect the nation's food supply and agricultural industry from pests and diseases.

My name is Bruce Murley, and I am Customs and Border Protection's Area Port Director for the Port of Honolulu. I began my career with the legacy United States Customs Service in 1987 as an inspector at the Eagle Pass, Texas port of entry. Since 2008, I have served in my current position as port director for the area port of Honolulu, with responsibility over all CBP operations in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam. Within the agriculture arena, my office is responsible for the inspection of agricultural products to protect the health of U.S. plant and animal resources and facilitate their movement in the global market place.

I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the men and women of CBP who work on the frontlines every day, protecting this Nation. Since its creation in 2003, CBP has made significant progress in effectively securing our borders, facilitating trade and travel, and protecting our country against invasive plant pests and exotic foreign animal diseases.

My testimony will highlight our agriculture mission and our work with our state and local partners, specifically in Hawaii. I will outline CBP's advancements over the past eight years, and the challenges we face every day.

The Agriculture Mission

The blending of the agricultural mission into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) exponentially strengthened the safety of U.S. agricultural and natural resources, and has increasingly become a stronger component of the overall DHS mission.  Since the transfer of agriculture inspection responsibilities from USDA APHIS to CBP in 2003, we have taken great steps to strengthen the agricultural quarantine inspection program and integrate agriculture issues into CBP's passenger and cargo inspection programs. In 2006, following the GAO report on this issue, Homeland Security: Management and Coordination Problems Increase the Vulnerability of U.S. Agriculture to Foreign Pests and Disease (GAO-06-644), CBP implemented the corrective measures identified. As a result of all this good work:

  • CBP agriculture specialists now have access to CBP's classified data systems, which enables them to better target for inspection passengers and cargo posing the greatest risk of introducing invasive plant pests and foreign animal diseases into the United States. For example, agriculture specialists now use CBP's Automated Targeting System to identify high-risk shipments before they enter the United States. In addition, we ensure that urgent agriculture alerts and other information essential to safeguarding U.S. agriculture are more effectively shared between CBP and the states.
  • CBP, in collaboration with scientists from the USDA, developed an agricultural risk-based passenger flight targeting initiative to increase likelihood of interdiction of agriculture products. Local criteria were developed to select and process passengers on flights with a high probability of having prohibited agriculture items that pose a threat to America's agriculture.
  • CBP created and implemented the Agriculture Enforcement Alerts program—an information sharing initiative for state and federal agriculture officials to evaluate trends of interdiction of plant pests and foreign animal diseases and identify potential risks to U.S. agriculture.
  • CBP and APHIS established a formal assessment process and Quality Assurance Program to ensure that ports continue to carry out agricultural inspections in accordance with APHIS' regulations, policies, and procedures.

To help ensure that agriculture issues are sufficiently and consistently addressed, CBP Agriculture Programs and Trade Liaison (APTL) established agriculture liaisons in each of its field offices to provide input on operational decisions made by CBP field office directors and provide senior-level leadership for agriculture specialists. In addition, CBP spearheaded the three Agriculture Liaison positions in APTL: CBP Headquarters, California, and Florida. These positions serve as links between USDA/APHIS and CBP APTL Headquarters, field staff and State Departments of Agriculture enhancing communication and effectiveness of the interagency partnership. These positions also work to strengthen the cohesiveness between the different agencies.

CBP has also improved the effectiveness of our agriculture canine program by reviewing our training and staff policies and procedures, and we validated our agriculture canine training program by working to ensure compliance with national standards. Additionally, we are developing and implementing CBP supervisory overview training for the canine program.

CBP has also undertaken several instructional initiatives for CBP officers. Newly hired CBP officers are trained in agricultural issues by USDA personnel at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and by CBP agriculture specialists at their respective ports of entry. The training provides them with fundamental agricultural knowledge to help them determine when to refer passengers and cargo to CBP agriculture specialists for in-depth inspections.

CBP has partnered with APHIS to develop and implement several technology training models to strengthen CBP's ability to detect, intercept and prevent the introduction of the Asian gypsy moth, the Khapra beetle, and the Asian citrus psyllid. We look forward to continuing this partnership with APHIS to develop more models like these in the coming months.

In addition, we evaluated the agricultural management support structure and responsibilities within the field offices and ports of entry and are actively developing a resource allocation model.

Joint Partnerships

As you can see already, CBP enjoys strong working relationships with its federal partners. I'd like to highlight a couple more examples of our collaboration with federal partners and stakeholders, followed by Hawaii-specific activities.

Joint Agency Task Force

In April 2007, APHIS and CBP convened a Joint Task Force (JATF), which for the last three years has been overseen by the Agriculture Quarantine Partnership Council, to evaluate the effectiveness of our agriculture programs and develop recommendations for improvements in areas identified by stakeholders and government oversight agencies. The task force completed a thorough review of the agricultural safeguarding system to understand the barriers to achieving enhanced program performance. The JATF finalized its report and recommendations with a thirteen detailed implementation action plans to address each key issue, outlining steps necessary to implement corrective actions and/or improvements. The overarching themes of the JATF report focused on raising the priority of the agriculture mission within CBP; developing strategies to improve capability to prevent the introduction and establishments of plant pests and foreign animal diseases; and integrating agriculture into the primary CBP mission of preventing terrorists and terrorists' weapons from entering the United States. Throughout this process, the Joint Agency Task Force received guidance and oversight from the Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Partnership Council (AQIPC).

Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Partnership Council

The Agriculture Quarantine Inspection Partnership Council is a Federal-State Government council responsible for providing advice, recommending direction, and providing open communication to the APHIS/CBP JATF charged with improving the agriculture quarantine activities of both agencies. The Partnership Council supports the activities of the Task Force by monitoring the action plans generated by the Task Force and by providing advice and guidance that reflects the interests and concerns of the American agricultural and environmental communities and stakeholders. Since the inaugural meeting in 2008, there have been eleven meetings focusing on the progress of the coordination and cooperation between CBP's agriculture programs and APHIS—how it's working and how it can be improved. Initially, the discussion resulted in refocusing the efforts of the JATF's thirteen implementation plans that addressed leadership, outreach and communication, emergency response and performance measurements among other topics.

Agriculture Stakeholders' Conference

The Joint Agriculture Stakeholders' Conference in 2008 brought together CBP and USDA officials, industry stakeholders, state plant health officials and private industry to discuss the further strengthening coordination and cooperation between APHIS and CBP's agriculture programs. Participants were updated on the activities and progress of CBP and APHIS, the efforts of the Joint Agency Task Force, and the status of the newly established Federal-State Agricultural Quarantine Inspection Partnership Council. CBP plans to hold another such conference in the near future, and we look forward to another productive meeting.

Commercial Operations Advisory Committee – Agriculture Subcommittee

The Commercial Operations Advisory Committee (COAC), Agriculture subcommittee was established in 2008 to advise the COAC of any recommendations pertaining to agriculture and agriculture-related issues and to develop recommendations pertaining to different agriculture and agriculture-related issues that might arise from examinations and border enforcement. The key initiative was to develop maritime industry outreach on the Asian gypsy moth, and together we successfully launched an outreach program targeting our stakeholders in the maritime community to let them know about this important issue. The Agriculture subcommittee is chaired by a trade representative, an APHIS representative, and an APTL representative.

National Pest Risk Committee Partnerships

In 2010, CBP and APHIS took an active role to strengthen and unify our joint pest risk committees. As a result of the feedback from the inaugural Agriculture Stakeholders' Conference in 2008, CBP and APHIS conducted a comprehensive review of the pest risk committees that subsequently led to several modifications. An addendum to the charter was created identifying objectives to assist the committees on refocusing their efforts. The pest risk committees, with a core membership from APHIS, CBP and representatives from the State Department of Agriculture, can now better review information associated with plant pests and foreign animal disease interceptions, as well as make recommendations to address any developing trends.

In addition to our federal partnerships, our relationship with the State of Hawaii is strong. The following are examples of our collaboration and outreach within Hawaii.

Hawaii Pest Risk Committee

CBP facilitates the Hawaii Pest Risk Committee where federal and state government agencies discuss current and emerging issues, exchange information, analyze data, and discuss respective efforts in protecting the United States and the State of Hawaii from plant pests and foreign animal diseases. This committee has helped CBP, our federal partners and stakeholders and our state partners and stakeholders come together to improve air, sea and mail communications across all our agencies. Last year alone, as a result of this committee, CBP referred over 20 pests or plant material thought to be of concern to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA).

Pacific Invasives Learning Network

CBP participates in a learning community comprising the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the U.S. Forest Service and APHIS to provide outreach and education to South Pacific island teams on invasive species and plant/pest risk in the Pacific. This information sharing assists other Pacific Island nations to improve their invasive species and regulatory programs.

Hawaii Ant Committee

As you may know, Hawaii has its own APHIS quarantine specific to ants. CBP participates on the Ant Committee ensuring information exchange and participation in prevention and planning activities to protect the Hawaiian islands from invasive ant species. An accomplishment of the committee is the finalizing of Red Imported Fire Ant Response Plan.

Coordinating Group for Alien Species

CBP participates in the Coordinating Group for Alien Species. Through this organization, TNC brings private, university, and governmental interests together to discuss and coordinate efforts in protecting the State of Hawaii's wide range of agricultural and natural resources. Invasive species committees from each of the Hawaiian Islands also participate in the group efforts. CBP's active role as a steering committee member has ensured increased understanding of CBP's responsibilities in enforcing federal laws and regulations. CBP contributed to the 2010-2013 Vision and Action Plan for protecting the State of Hawaii from invasive species.

The Path Forward

We are working hard to ensure the agriculture function within CBP is well-positioned throughout the agency, with the right mix of management and leadership supporting the agriculture mission, where staff is empowered at every level, and the introduction of plant pests and foreign animal diseases is treated with the same rigor as all other mission areas.

CBP is creating a comprehensive agriculture specialist career track for entry level CBP agriculture specialists and will ensure that CBP agriculture specialists are provided the training, experience, and assignments necessary for career progression within the agency and department. We have developed plans to improve agriculture specialist recruitment and retention and have ensured agriculture specialists have the necessary equipment and resources to fully and effectively carry out their mission. Additionally, we are investigating formally establishing an existing interagency rotation program for APHIS training personnel to rotate to CBP ports of entry aimed at enhancing their agriculture operational experience, which will translate to a more interactive instruction experience.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to testify today on CBP's role in protecting our nation's agriculture industry and natural resources; I am so proud of the good work of our CBP officers, agents and specialists, and I am looking forward to continuing my work with CBP to keep our country safe and secure. I will be happy to answer your questions.

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