On February 2, 2017, several Democratic Senators on the Finance Committee wrote a letter to President Trump requesting an end to the Federal civilian hiring freeze as it applies to those responsible for trade enforcement, pointing out that during his campaign, the President described trade enforcement as the “center” of his campaign for trade reform. The letter said that it was critical that the United States has a robust workforce dedicated to addressing the nation’s trade enforcement challenges and gave the following examples:
- Producers of steel, softwood lumber, and a range of other commodities are relying on skilled investigators and attorneys at the Commerce Department to address unfair trade that is harming American workers and devastating communities;
- American workers and businesses are calling upon trade specialists and border agents at Customs and Border Protection to identify and investigate companies that are failing to pay import duties, importing counterfeit merchandise, or otherwise violating U.S. trade laws;
- American companies facing barriers to trade in China and elsewhere, including U.S. aluminum producers, are relying on skilled lawyers and other staff at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to investigate and bring legal challenges against countries that fail to comply with their international obligations;
- Investigators at the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs are identifying cases in which foreign governments are violating labor commitments or foreign companies are producing goods using child or forced labor;
- The Office of Law Enforcement at the Department of lnterior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is investigating wildlife crimes, including illegal trafficking in endangered species and stolen timber that can end up costing U.S. manufacturers that abide by the rules; and
- Attorneys at the U.S. Department of Justice are defending U.S. trade remedy actions in U.S. court and bringing legal challenges against companies that violate U.S. trade laws.
The letter also pointed out that the timing of the freeze was “particularly problematic given that several of these agencies are implementing new enforcement tools included in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, and as a result have been tasked with even more extensive trade enforcement responsibilities. Congress included a directive for more resources to be dedicated to trade enforcement as part of the Act, yet the freeze would have the effect of reducing such resources.”