Senate Unanimously Passes Bipartisan Border Jobs for Veterans Act

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last evening applauded the unanimous Senate approval of S. 1603, the Border Jobs for Veterans Act. The bipartisan bill will help put veterans to work as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at understaffed U.S. ports of entry.

Earlier this week, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson confirmed that the agency has yet to fill nearly 1,200 of the 2,000 new CBP officer positions created by Congress in 2014 to improve security and reduce trade-stifling commercial traffic at ports. Secretary Johnson has attributed the shortfall to delays associated with applicant background investigations, low polygraph clearance rates and a shortage of federal polygraph examiners, combined with CBP officer attrition. 

The Border Jobs for Veterans Act will address those challenges by requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cooperate on efforts to recruit and expedite the hiring of outgoing U.S. military service members – some of whom can enter the application process with an active security clearance – to serve as CBP officers at ports.

The bill does not raise costs or impact existing veteran hiring authorities.

“I am very pleased the Border Jobs for Veterans Act, which I cosponsored with Senators Flake, McCain and Schumer, passed unanimously Wednesday in the Senate. This is an important, incremental step towards enhancing our border security,” said Johnson. “Since becoming chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I have looked closely at border security through a series of site visits, committee hearings and roundtables. One common theme that has emerged is that manpower plays a vital role in securing the border, both at and between our ports of entry. This bill gives former service members an opportunity to continue serving by ensuring the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense work together to identify these qualified applicants and provide DHS with the best candidates to fill vacancies in remote ports of entry along our borders. I urge the House to swiftly take up and pass this important legislation.”

“Veterans need jobs and our ports need CBP officers. Solutions don’t get more straightforward than that,” said Flake. “The Senate has unanimously approved a bill that will put veterans to work, improve national security, increase trade and grow the economy – all at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Not a bad day in Washington.”

“I’m proud that the Senate unanimously passed our common-sense bill that helps returning service members find good jobs while also helping to fill critical staffing deficiencies at U.S. ports of entry,” said McCain. “We must do everything we can to help our troops successfully reenter the workforce, and this bipartisan bill would provide veterans with vital opportunities to continue serving and protecting the nation.” 

The text of the Border Jobs for Veterans Act can be viewed here

Background: At an April 28 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Flake pressed Sec. Johnson on concerns over the slow pace of hiring CBP officers to staff ports of entry, resulting in the recent admission that CBP will not hit its staffing target for Fiscal Year 2015. Video of the hearing can be viewed here and Sec. Johnson’s written response can be viewed here

On May 5, Flake and McCain sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Sec. Johnson proposing that both agencies partner to help military service members reentering the civilian workforce get jobs at understaffed ports of entry. The Flake-McCain letter and the responses from both agencies can be viewed here

On August 4, the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority sent a letter to Flake and McCain reiterating the economic ramifications of understaffed ports of entry on the Arizona-Mexico border and expressing the group’s support for the Border Jobs for Veterans Act. That letter can be viewed here