WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.) is inquiring into allegations that U.S. Customs & Border Protection failed to properly allocate $9.5 million in congressionally approved funding to hire 72 textile specialists, inspectors and investigators to fight violations such as transshipments.
Dole sent a letter to the new Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, on Monday requesting a “complete accounting” of how the money has been spent. In addition, she wants to know whether the funds have been used for hiring and training additional import specialists within Customs’ Textile Enforcement Division, as outlined in the Trade Act of 2002.
Rep. Sue Myrick (R., N.C.) sent a similar letter to Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner on Friday, along with Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C. ).
Funding for the additional 72 personnel at the Textile Enforcement Division was provided in the fiscal year 2004 and 2005 Homeland Security appropriations bills.
“My concern is amplified by [textile] industry reports that the Customs Service has repeatedly stalled in answering questions regarding the hiring and training of the much-needed additional Customs agents,” Dole wrote. “It seems as if Customs has been able to divert the focus to highlight successes of the service, rather than directly addressing their failure to use funds for textile and apparel enforcement. Since textile imports have one of the highest tariff levels, the enforcement of current trade laws is essential to ensure that money due to the U.S. Treasury is not lost.”
Customs officials shed some light on their defense in a letter sent to Hayes on Feb. 7 and obtained by WWD. L. Seth Statler, deputy assistant commissioner for the office of congressional affairs at Customs, said the $9.5 million in funds was equally distributed to two separate bureaus, U.S. Customs & Border Protection and U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
He said there are 242 import specialists who review and process textile shipments, but he did not disclose whether the agency has added any new specialists. Statler said it is estimated the salaries and benefits of these import specialists and travel for verification teams accounted for about $18 million last year.
Statler said Textile Production Verification Teams visited more than 710 factories in 12 high-risk countries, including Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Israel, Egypt, South Africa, Madagascar, Singapore and Malaysia in 2004.
“As a result of these visits…the activity of the closed factories has been reduced from $336 million to $5 million, and the number of importers dealing with these factories has been reduced from over 1,000 to 55,” Statler wrote.