Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Legislation Builds on Heitkamp’s Efforts to Protect, Grow a Strong, Vibrant Border Security Workforce 

As Illegal Border Crossings Increase and Drug & Human Trafficking Persist, Heitkamp has Focused Attention on Unique Hiring and Security Challenges Posed by Northern Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that her bipartisan bill to help address chronic challenges Customs and Border Protection (CBP) faces with hiring and retaining workers in rural and remote areas, including at the Northern Border, to secure our country’s borders passed the Senate.

Heitkamp introduced her bipartisan bill, the CBP Hiring and Retention (CBP HiRe) Act, with U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) last year. It would help strengthen border security and remedy personnel challenges that are common in rural or remote areas, and was introduced in response to Heitkamp’s frequent meetings with CBP agents and officers in North Dakota. In recent years, CBP has experienced difficulties recruiting, hiring, and retaining both Border Patrol agents to secure the border and CBP officers to staff trade-facilitating ports of entry. These positions remain unfilled due to high attrition rates, a lengthy hiring process, and difficulty finding applicants willing to work in remote locations.

“Our Customs and Border Protection officers and agents are on the front lines of keeping North Dakota and America safe – but especially in rural areas like North Dakota, CBP faces unique challenges in hiring and retaining the workforce we need to protect our borders,” Heitkamp said. “After hearing firsthand about the challenges CBP faces, we introduced this bipartisan bill to help the agency attract and retain the best workforce possible, and it’s an important win for North Dakota communities, our Customs and Border Protection workforce, and our national security that it has now passed the Senate. Along with the new Northern Border strategy recently released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that was prompted by my bipartisan bill that was passed into law, we’re working toward solutions that will keep every North Dakota community strong and safe.”

“The CBP HiRe Act is a commonsense, bipartisan solution to the bureaucratic hiring process that has left the border and our ports of entry understaffed. This bill will give CBP the tools it needs to effectively and efficiently recruit and retain the personnel needed to complete its border security and trade-facilitating missions,” said Flake. “Now that the bill has unanimously passed the Senate, I urge the House to swiftly approve this legislation and send to the president’s desk without delay.”

After CBP establishes that there is a critical hiring need in an area, as well as a direct relationship between the rural or remote nature of an area and the difficulty in recruitment and retention of CBP employees in an area, the agency will have access to the following toolkit of resources to:

  • Hire employees more quickly: CBP would have enhanced direct hire authority to make it easier for them to hire qualified employees quickly, while still prioritizing the hiring of veterans.
  • Offer recruitment, relocation, retention bonuses: CBP would have enhanced ability to consider these circumstances when deciding whether to award a bonus to a newly-appointed employee, or to an employee relocating to a different area. CBP would also be able to offer bonuses to retain employees, including those looking to move to a different location due to the rural or remote nature of an area.
  • Offer special pay rates: In certain occupations, due to the rural or remote nature of an area, CBP could use these circumstances to offer higher rates of pay – particularly when recruitment and retention efforts are compromised by offering pay that isn’t at parity with private sector pay for similar positions.
  • Educate employees about opportunities to boost recruitment: The bill would make sure CBP is aware of the tools it has access to as it works to recruit and retain employees. The bill would also hold the agency accountable for educating employees about opportunities that could boost recruitment and retention.     

Click here for a summary of the bill, which has been endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council, the National Treasury Employees Union, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. Click here to read comments from national groups in support of the legislation.

Heitkamp has long been focused on helping CBP meet its workforce needs to protect our country’s borders. In July 2016, Heitkamp introduced her Flexible HIRE (Hiring and Improving Recruitment, Retention, and Education) Act  which was inspired in part by an October 2015 U.S. Senate hearing Heitkamp led to develop solutions to recruit and retain federal workers in regions such as the Bakken and the Northern Border. The bipartisan CBP HiRe Act applies the principles behind Heitkamp’s Flexible HIRE Act to address federal hiring and retention obstacles that CBP faces in rural and remote areas.  

Heitkamp has spent years working to address chronic personnel challenges along our nation’s borders and to secure the Northern Border. In 2014, Heitkamp brought the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to North Dakota to meet with CBP officers and agents, local sheriffs, police chiefs, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents – to give North Dakotans an opportunity to have their voices heard

In March of last year, Heitkamp questioned key U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) union officials about actions that could be taken to help effectively tackle consistent challenges faced by CBP officers at the Northern Border’s 120 ports of entry. Currently, the CBP’s Office of Field Operations needs additional officers to adequately secure the nation’s ports of entry, which hundreds of millions of travelers  crossed last year – more than ever before – and where international travel is expected to increase exponentially. 

Heitkamp’s work to make sure sufficient attention is paid to protecting the Northern Border includes meetings with border security officials in North Dakota and in Washington D.C. visiting the border in Pembina and Portal, raising awareness about the challenges at the border for top federal officials and agency heads, and introducing legislation.

Heitkamp’s bipartisan Northern Border Security Review Act to strengthen and secure the Northern Border was signed into law in December 2016. The bill specifically addresses the concerns and challenges she and then-U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heard about in April 2015 from federal, state, county, and local officials and law enforcement while visiting Pembina when she brought Mayorkas to North Dakota’s Northern Border. Heitkamp’s bill led to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) releasing a new strategic plan earlier this year to tackle chronic and emerging security issues along the Northern Border.

Last August, Heitkamp brought together CBP officials and other federal, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in Minot to discuss the new Northern Border Strategy and gain input on their needs as the strategy is implemented. Heitkamp visited the Portal Port of Entry in November 2016, where she met with CBP officers and managers about the challenges they face in helping secure the Northern Border. Heitkamp visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Grand Forks in January 2014, and she held a discussion in June 2014 with law enforcement in Minot to discuss stressed law enforcement personnel in the border region.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov