Representative Bill Owens announced today that he has won a concession from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that will keep an additional helicopter and pilot at the Plattsburgh Air Branch. Owens has been fighting CBP's plan to reduce staffing along the northern border.
CBP Assistant Commissioner and Major General Randolph D. Alles informed Owens that the agency would add an American Eurocopter AS-350 A-Star and a pilot to the Air Branch. However, even with the addition, the total staff level at the air branch is expected to decline in future years. This news comes despite the inclusion of funds for an additional 2,000 CBP officers that were included in the omnibus appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014, which Owens supported.
"I am encouraged by the news that CBP will keep this aircraft and pilot at the Air Branch," Rep. Bill Owens said. "I will use every tool at my disposal as a Member of Congress to ensure future government cuts don't jeopardize national security or impede people and goods crossing the northern border to spend money in our economy and create jobs."
Owens has been leading a fight to keep the northern border's security posture strong by maintaining current staffing levels. In September, he wrote a letter to CBP's Commissioner expressing his concerns about the proposed staff reductions. During a call with Major General Alles the next day, Owens was informed CBP would seek volunteers to move to a station along the Southern border, but would issue a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to Air Branch employees and their families if no volunteers could be found in the next two years. A PCS is essentially an order to relocate. Owens subsequently wrote letters in October and December to CBP in which he questioned the prudence of severe resource reductions. He has pledged to continue to fight this draw-down.
"Clearly, CBP has important needs at both borders," Rep. Bill Owens said. "Canada is our nation's largest trading partner. Beyond giving CBP employees the tools they need to police the world's largest shared international land border, we need adequate staffing to prevent delays at northern border crossings to protect the commerce that sustains our region's economy and creates jobs."
The Plattsburgh Air Branch supports air interdiction and border surveillance missions across the Northeast. In addition to that primary mission, the branch assists local and state law enforcement agencies in cases near the border.
New York's 21st Congressional District contains 13 border crossings and a large portion of New York's shared border with Canada. Congressman Owens is the co-chairman of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus, which focuses on ways to speed the flow of goods and tourists across the border, the important economic and diplomatic partnership between the United States and Canada, and cooperation between both nations' respective border security agencies.