On December 20, 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) published in the Federal Register an interim final rule [USCBP-2016 – 0075; CBP Dec. No. 16-26] that amends the CBP regulations to implement an organizational change by: defining the Centers of Excellence and Expertise (Centers) and the Center directors; amending the definition for port directors to distinguish their functions from those of the Center directors; identifying the Center management offices; explaining the process by which importers will be assigned to Centers; providing the importer with an appeals process for its Center assignment; identifying the regulatory functions that will be transitioned from the port directors to the Center directors and those that will be jointly carried out by the port directors and the Center directors; and providing clarification in applicable regulations that payments and documents may continue to be submitted at the ports of entry or electronically.

Section 110 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (Pub. L. 114–125, 130 Stat. 122, February 24, 2016) required that the Centers be developed and implemented. Therefore, CBP is ending a test of the Centers’ (developed in 2012) and establishing the Centers as a permanent organizational component of the agency and transitioning certain additional trade functions to the Centers, such as the processing of quota entry summaries (see 19 C.F.R. part 132) and determining whether to provide importers with a reasonable opportunity to label products (see 19 C.F.R. part 11). Entry summaries, protests and most other trade activities are also being transferred to the Centers, although some documents may continue to be submitted at the ports of entry or electronically. To accomplish this goal, CBP is realigning and shifting certain staff positions from the port director chain of command to the Center director chain of command. The staff that is handling the trade functions under the port director will continue to handle those same functions under the Center directors, but they will be reallocated by industry specialization and will report to one of the ten Centers. The staff who will report to the Centers includes: Import Specialists, Entry Specialists, and Liquidation Specialists. This realignment is virtual, in that Center personnel will remain at their current location, primarily at ports of entry, to stay accessible to the trade community and to continue to assist with enforcement and compliance issues that arise. The staff who will continue to report to the port directors includes: CBP Officers, Agriculture Specialists, FPF Officers, and Seized Property Specialists.

CBP notes that certain authorities and responsibilities that were provided to the Center directors by waiving certain regulatory sections in the test notices will not be transitioned to the Centers under the regulations. CBP has made the decision to maintain the current regulatory authorities for: the control, movement, examination and release of cargo; export; drawback; and Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures. The sections that will not be transitioned to the Centers under the regulations that were transitioned in the test notices are listed here along with parenthetical explanations: § 10.66 (exportation of goods); § 10.67 (exportation of goods); § 12.3 (condition of release); § 12.73(k) (detention of motor vehicle); § 12.80 (condition of release); § 134.3(b)(2) (location of examination); § 141.58(c) (request to ship merchandise separately); § 142.13 (condition of release); § 144.34(a) (physical transport of goods from warehouse); § 141.57 (incremental release of split shipments); § 146.63 (Foreign Trade Zone release); § 162.79b (involves Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures officers); § 181.13 (involves Fines, Penalties & Forfeitures officers); and § 191.61 (drawback). The interim regulation also amends certain regulations to jointly authorize the port directors and Center directors to implement certain functions, such as the authority to accept certain documentation (see, e.g., 19 C.F.R. 10.41a(e)) and collect payments (see, e.g., 19 C.F.R. 24.2).

This interim rule is effective January 19, 2017.