It has taken almost a decade for a post 9/11-version of a secure Trusted Traveler program to become official, but Monday’s publication of the final rule establishing Global Entry as an official program marks a signal achievement for DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The program has been operating a long-running pilot for almost four years to great reviews from individual travelers, industry groups and CBP itself. CBP has an excellent track record of taking pilot programs to fruition once the kinks have been ironed out. With over 300,000 applications in place, over 1.8 million individual trips handled, and over tens of thousands of CBP man and woman-hours saved, Global Entry deserves the praise it got directly from the President on his visit to Disney last month.
The final rule makes some helpful tweaks to the program, including allowing minors to apply so families can travel together, and subjecting further expansions to other countries only to the process of publication in the Federal Register. The more important questions for the growth of the program fall into two separate buckets: resources and leveraging. On the resource side, CBP is about to deploy about a 100 new kiosks to its locations (20 currently, soon to be 24, and possibly up to 37 by year’s end), but if demand increases, CBP will need more appropriated funds to purchase kiosks or authority to enter into private-public partnerships to pay for the devices. On the leveraging side, CBP needs to conclude discussions with TSA to allow Global Entry members to use the TSA Pre-Check pilot program and work with multinational businesses to have more foreign governments enter into partnerships with CBP to make travel more seamless for low-risk business travelers.
Global Entry is not only a good idea – it is an essential part of CBP’s strategy to handle increased traffic flows in an era of tight budgets. Kudos to officials including Secretary Napolitano, Assistant Secretary Bersin, Assistant Secretary Smith, Acting CBP Commissioner Aguilar and his team at field operations who have grown the program exponentially since 2009, and to their predecessors who took the risk of approving and launching the program in an era when any pro-traveler program faced an understandably skeptical review.