U.S. Customs and Border Protection on guard

By Maria Jose Subiria


Before imported commercial goods enter the United States, import specialists for U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspect the shipments to ensure they are in compliance with customs laws and import and export regulations, according to Robert Lynch, a supervisory import specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Port of Atlanta.

Lynch, who oversees a team of import specialists at the Port of Atlanta, said workers like his protect the U.S. by preventing the importation of harmful goods.

"We work with other government agencies, foreign governments and the trade community to better define and assess risk through the sharing of information," he said.

Lynch said he was born in Green Bay, Wis., in 1965, and moved to Georgia in 1971.

"I grew up in Roswell, and been there since I was 5 years old," he said. "It was a very small town."

According to Lynch, he attended Roswell High School, and graduated in 1984. He attended Valdosta State University, where he majored in criminal justice and worked in a U.S. Customs co-op program for students in the late 1980s.

"I did whatever they wanted me to do," he said. "It was more office-type work. For me, personally, it was very rewarding ... When I graduated I had a job."

Lynch said he graduated from Valdosta State in 1989, with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

He said he was hired as a Customs and Border Protection officer, at the Port of Atlanta, and had a full range of duties.

As an officer, he worked at the Port of Atlanta and Atlanta's airport, checking passengers, luggage and cargo, he added.

In August 1995, Lynch became an import specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which he said was a lateral move from his previous position.

"I thought it'd be interesting to see how different parts of Customs operated," he said.

Lynch said in the year 2000, he was promoted as an import specialist team leader, and in 2001 became a supervisory import specialist, a position he's held since then.

According to Lynch, import specialists typically look for trade compliance issues, but they also assist the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in uncovering potential terrorist threats to the country.

If an import specialist discovers items such as guns or narcotics in a shipment, they seek advice from customs officers who specialize in enforcement issues, he said.

"After 9/11 we've looked at chemical shipments a little bit differently," said Lynch. "Prior to 9/11, we weren't as concerned with what these chemicals may be used for."

Lynch said import specialist are also responsible for categorizing imported cargo. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States -- a thick book that categorizes agricultural and commercial goods -- provides import specialists with information on applicable tariff rates for commercial items that enter the United States.

"It's very thick and everything that comes into this country has a classification and, of course, a duty rate," said Scott Sams, public affairs liaison for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Port of Atlanta.

Harmful commercial goods that U.S. Customs may be on the lookout for include those that may contain high levels of lead paint or other toxins, said Lynch. They also intercept counterfeit goods or those that may be fraudulently labeled with an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification, which may mislead a consumer about a product's safety.

"In Atlanta, we not only inspect cargo that arrives via air, we also inspect cargo that comes in through our seaports and land border ports, which may have been sent to Atlanta under bond," Lynch said. "CBP screens cargo through various targeting methods and selects high-risk shipments for physical examination."

Lynch said that when examining high-risk shipments, import specialists look at the origin of the shipment, the items contained in the shipment, and its destination.

"We are looking at the documents that the importer submitted to customs," he said.

According to Lynch, a typical day for an import specialist includes inspecting cargo shipments and researching and analyzing the importation of commercial goods in order to identify potentially harmful shipments or incorrect documentation from importers.

"It's rewarding to know you've prevented potentially harmful products from entering the commerce of the United States," he said.