Senate Homeland Security approves bill to hire more inspectors

-The Hagstrom Report

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on July 24 unanimously approved bipartisan legislation authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire additional agricultural inspectors to fully staff airports, seaports and land ports of entry.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the ranking member on the committee, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 authorizes the annual hiring of 240 agricultural specialists a year until the workforce shortage is filled, and 200 agricultural technicians a year to carry out administrative and support functions.

The bill also authorizes the training and assignment of 20 new canine teams a year, which have proven valuable in detecting illicit fruits, vegetables and animal products that may have otherwise been missed in initial inspections.

Finally, the bill authorizes supplemental appropriations each year to pay for the activities of the agriculture specialists, technicians and canine teams.

The legislation has received support from a broad coalition of groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Treasury Employees Union, Border Trade Alliance, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Pork Producers, Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Agri-Business Association, the Michigan Pork Producers, Airports Council International-North America, and City of Pharr-International Bridge.

“Agricultural inspectors help secure our country from serious threats that could disrupt our food supply or endanger our agricultural industry,” Peters said.

“We need more inspectors and support staff to effectively carry out this vital national security mission and protect Americans’ health and safety. I’m proud to have lead this bipartisan effort, and I look forward to the full Senate passing this bill as quickly as possible.”

“I’m pleased this important piece of bipartisan legislation is one step closer to the finish line,” said Roberts. “The Department of Homeland Security is a fundamental partner in supporting American agriculture, one of our critical national infrastructures. The protection of our agriculture and food supply chain is of utmost importance, and this bill aims to do just that through a strengthened workforce at our borders.”

“Agricultural inspectors are our first line of defense against threats to our agricultural economy,” said Stabenow. “I’m pleased we are one step closer to hiring more agriculture specialists to address serious shortages and protect the safety of our food supply.”

“Hundreds of billions of dollars in goods pass through Texas’ ports of entry each year,” said Cornyn. “This legislation would help alleviate the shortage of agricultural inspectors tasked with ensuring the safety and integrity of goods and products coming across our border, and I’m grateful to my colleagues on the Committee for their support.”