Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Customs Working Too Hard?

Look at this story.

The thing about having a job to do as a professional is the ability to exercise discretion. Digging ditches is an honorable profession. But ditch diggers rarely get to decide how deep or wide to dig. They follow directions and do what is required for the particular job. It is left to some engineer to determine what this particular ditch needs to look like.

To some extent the same goes for Customs and Border Protection. There are times when the "by the book" or "just following procedure" approach does not make sense. One example is the story noted above where a fire engine from Quebec was trying to enter New York to keep a building from burning down. CBP ran the vehicle and the firefighters through the normal process and held the truck up for 8 minutes. Apparently, one of the firefighters had a criminal record. OK, that makes sense if he was in a Winnebago with a bunch of frat boys and a keg. But this was a firetruck responding to a fire.

I'm sure CBP is not happy with this either and I am not trying to pile on. But, I think some people in CBP may have lost site of when and how to exercise discretion. That is a very important skill for government employees, particularly law enforcement officials. In some ways, it separates good government from a bureaucratic mess.

UPDATE:

I was going to leave this alone, but it is getting a lot of press coverage. Bottom line is that an ambulance carrying a cardiac patient to a hospital in Detroit from Windson was also stopped at the border. The cause seems to have been a computer generated requirement for a more intensive review. I understand that there is an international border involved and that an ambulance (particularly a private one) might be used as a ruse to get bad guys into the country, but there should be a way to avoid treating an ambulance with lights and sirens going and a nearly dead guy in the back the same as a bus of conventioneers returning from the Windsor Ballet.

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