By Maria José Subiria
As Stephen Kremer walks around International Concourse E, at the world's busiest airport, he greets U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers with a bright smile, which, in turn, leads officers to open up, and talk with him about their day, and their jobs.
"It is very important to keep employees happy, or otherwise, there will be a mutiny," jokes Kremer, with a laugh.
Kremer is the port director, of the Port of Atlanta, for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Though his position entails an enormous amount of responsibility, he doesn't let it hinder his comfortable personality, and positive attitude.
According to Kremer, one of his many responsibilities is overseeing U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which includes prohibiting international criminals, illegal individuals, illegal items and hazardous agricultural products from entering, or leaving, American soil.
"I like what I do, I like trying to keep America safe," says Kremer. "I enjoy the challenge of what this job brings every day."
In addition, Kremer manages the port office, according to Scott Sams, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is responsible for the international trade side of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The Atlanta Perishable Center at the airport is another operation that draws Kremer's attention, says Sams, as United States Department of Agriculture specialists are responsible for checking and handling food and plants to make sure they are safe and legal. When perishable items arrive at the center, specialists look for contraband items and hazardous goods.
Kremer says his position also requires him to manage centralized exam stations, which are warehouse facilities where cargo arrives and is inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. There are two centralized exam stations in the metro-Atlanta area, according to Sams, and Kremer is also in charge of U.S. Customs and Border operations performed at all bonded warehouses within his jurisdiction. According to Customs officials, bonded warehouses are authorized warehouses that store cargo that is part of international trade operations.
Outside the walls of warehouses and exam stations, Kremer's responsibilities escalate to managing foreign-trade zones, which are restricted-access sites, in, or around, a port of entry. The purpose of these zones, according to Customs officials, is to accelerate and enhance foreign commerce.
Completing everything on his schedule, daily, is difficult, Kremer says, because unexpected occurrences often pop up throughout the day, which keep him on his toes. "You get pulled in different directions all day long," he says, with a chuckle. "You really have to manage your time."
Kremer says his agenda varies from day to day, but he usually begins with non-airport-related meetings in the morning, including speaking with cargo companies and brokers, who handle the importation of commercial goods. During the afternoon, he starts his airport-related meetings, which consist of reviewing, with his staff, important events that occurred during the weekend or overnight. Discussions of persons found with criminal records, or cases of medical importance, and other topics often arise at these meetings.
In addition, he says, he speaks with Ben DeCosta, aviation general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson; the management teams of key operators, such as Delta Air Lines and TBI Airport Management, Inc., which is the management company that handles Concourse E.
"International arrivals have grown so much in this concourse [Concourse E]," Kremer says, "some of the flights that [would] typically take off from this terminal, [have to] take off at other terminals."
Another aspect of his job led him to take part in helping design the 1.2 million-square-foot Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., International Terminal, which is currently under construction, and is scheduled to open in the Spring of 2012. He says he was responsible for helping make sure the design enhanced the efficiency of Customs and Border Protection operations at the airport.
He says his travels on behalf of the federal government gave him ideas for the new terminal, such as the concept of a "triage counter," that he saw at the ports of Miami, Fla., Los Angeles, Calif., and Toronto, Canada. Kremer says a triage counter will help operations run more smoothly, by sending international passengers, who may have any type of problem, to the counter. Officers at the triage counter, would determine where to direct, or send a passenger from there.
Kremer says that, when the new international terminal opens, Atlanta-bound international passengers won't have to re-check their luggage with the Transportation Security Administration, like they currently do, in Concourse E. Once passengers land in Atlanta, they will claim their luggage with Customs and Border Protection, and exit the building.
With the combination of 28 gates in Concourse E and 12 gates in the new international terminal, Atlanta's airport will have 40 international gates, he says, proudly.
Reflecting on how he chose his career path, Kremer says he was born in Minot, N.D., and has always had a strong interest in law enforcement. In the 1970's and 1980's, he served with the Stanton Police Department, the Portal Police Department and the Burke County Sheriff's Department, all in North Dakota. His career path took a different turn when he met an official from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which at that time, was called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
"I grew up in a border town, and I was working for the sheriff's department," he says. "The port director for Immigration [INS], up in North Dakota, encouraged me."
Kremer says he joined the INS in 1983. "I guess it's the satisfaction of taking bad people off the streets, making sure they don't pose a threat to society," he says. Later, he took the position of port director for immigration at the Port of St. Louis, in St. Louis, Mo., and moved to the Peach state, when he became the assistant port director at the Port of Atlanta in 1992, he says.
In 1999, he became the assistant chief inspector at INS headquarters in Washington D.C., and continued to climb the ladder, until he became port director at the Port of Atlanta, in 2008.
He says the two things that make his job satisfying are the Customs and Border Protection officers, who make up an excellent support team, and the strong sense of cooperation among the people and agencies with whom he works. "The most important is the good relationship we have with the City of Atlanta," he says. "All of us [City of Atlanta and Customs and Border Protection] work together, and have a great management."