Tagged: experience

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Local trucking firms butting heads with Border Patrol

Newly enforced regulations prohibiting Mexican truck drivers from transporting cargo loads picked up at local warehouses to another location within the United States are creating a headache for trucking and logistics companies.

The issue stems from commercial violations of so-called “cabotage” regulations, a provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement that prohibits foreign truck drivers from lugging cargo that originated in the United States to a final destination within the country.

The issue prompted the owners of local trucking and logistic companies to convene a meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss possible solutions to the problem. More than 25 people attended the gathering at WS Trucklines off Old Tucson Road, with most expressing concerns that if the problem isn’t fixed, they may have to close their businesses or lay off employees.

“Long story short, if we don’t fix this soon, 100 companies will close in Nogales,” said Jimmy Watson, Jr., who runs local trucking company JSJ Enterprises with his father Jimmy Watson, Sr.

Watson said that while the regulations have long been in place, they weren’t being enforced by local Border Patrol agents at the Interstate 19 checkpoint.

That changed, however, when Patrol Agent in Charge Sabri Dikman took over the Nogales Station in June, Watson said.

Though the group had until Oct. 1 to comply with the regulations, an email from Eric Lee, watch commander at the Nogales Border Patrol Station, to Luis Velasco of Athena Logistic Solutions, which the group provided to the NI, states: “The Chief of Tucson Sector has agreed to give local companies more time to get their operations in compliance before we start enforcing the regulations.”

The group now has until Jan. 1, 2018 to come into compliance.

“This is just an aspirin for the headache that is coming,” Watson told the group.

Change in attitude

In an emailed statement Thursday morning, the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector public information office said: “Federal immigration regulations and policies provide that foreign commercial truck drivers may qualify for temporary entry with a B-1 visa to pick up or deliver cargo traveling in the stream of international commerce.”

B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visas are meant for people who are participating in business activities in the United States. In the case of truck drivers here on a B-1 visa, they must enter the United States with a trailer loaded with foreign merchandise and deliver it to its final destination, remaining in the stream of international commerce.

They cannot, however, unload the cargo locally and then reload their trucks with merchandise stored at warehouses in Nogales and Rio Rico. Doing so would be a violation of cabotage regulations, also known as point-to-point hauling, because it would be considered domestic commerce and would be in direct competition to U.S. truck drivers.

“These regulations do not allow for commercial drivers in the United States on a B-1 visa to carry cargo in violation of cabotage laws, i.e. domestic point-to-point hauling or other purely domestic service or solicitation,” the sector’s public information office said. “Should a driver engage in such activity, he/she would be engaging in unauthorized employment in the United States in violation of (federal statutes).”

According to a pamphlet distributed by Border Patrol regarding NAFTA regulations that was provided to the NI by the business owners, drivers in violation of employment laws can have their cargo taken, visas cancelled, and will be arrested and placed in deportation proceedings. Companies in violation can also face civil and criminal penalties.

Asked why the change in attitude, the sector’s public information office said: “Border Patrol has exercised agent discretion in the enforcement of this law in the past. Reports from Interstate 19 checkpoint indicate numerous drivers transiting through the checkpoint are in violation of cabotage requirements.”

Once regulations are enforced, agents at the I-19 checkpoint will check truck drivers’ employment status and ask where the cargo loads originated.

Possible solutions

Among them, the businesses represented at Wednesday’s meeting have roughly 500 trucks, Watson said. If they’re unable to find a solution by the Jan. 1 deadline, it would mean a significant blow to the local economy, he added.

The group brainstormed various ways in which they could come into compliance with federal regulations, including hiring U.S. truck drivers, obtaining H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker visas for their employees and lobbying local, state and federal officials.

However, following through with those suggestions is easier said than done.

Nationwide, there is a shortage of U.S. truck drivers, and the group noted that the older average age of truck drivers on the road means there will be even more vacancies in the coming years.

Watson and others in attendance, including Luis Rivera of L&R Trucking and Salvador Gonzalez Luna of Goza Trucking, said they’ve run classified advertisements and visited the Santa Cruz County One Stop Career Center, but have been unsuccessful in their search for American drivers.

They said many potential drivers want to work Monday-Friday, drive locally or within the state and be paid in cash, demands that aren’t realistic, Gonzalez said. He added that many insurance companies also require that drivers have three years experience, which makes it difficult to attract younger drivers who have recently received their commercial driver’s license.

Still, Watson encouraged the group to reach out to the One Stop Center and also sign up to participate in the county job fair next month.

Another obstacle has been obtaining H-2B visas. Isaias Salas, owner of WS Trucklines, and Rivera said despite hiring a lawyer to help them with the application process, they’ve been denied multiple times. Velasco of Athena Logistic Solutions, who said he applied on his own and received a response from the Department of Labor, encouraged the group to submit the applications themselves before hiring a lawyer.

In addition to seeking American drivers more aggressively and applying for H-2B visas, the group also discussed creating a trucking association, helping to eliminate some of the competition among them, and also working with immigration lawyers and government officials who can help get their needs addressed.

“We’re not opposed to the regulations,” Gonzalez said. “We want to do things right, but we need help.”

Coincidentally, the meeting Wednesday came a day after the Arizona Department of Transportation held a training with Mexican truck drivers in Nogales, Sonora as part of an effort aimed at helping them cross the border more efficiently.

The ADOT effort, which teaches commercial drivers what to expect during safety inspections when they cross through a port of entry, seeks to reduce long lines at the port. It’s part of on-going effort to build better relationships between truckers and federal and state transportation inspectors at the Mariposa Port of Entry, which local and state officials believe is crucial to cross-border trade.

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Waste hub approved at special meeting

The waste hub plan for Hollow Road Farm was approved today by a special meeting of St Edmundsbury’s Development Control Committee.

The meeting accepted the officer recommendation by a vote of 11 to five to approve the plan for the hub in Hollow Road, Fornham St Martin, in spite of widespread local objections.

The special meeting was arranged after the committee’s July 19 meeting decided to defer the application to allow officers time to report back on three issues raised.

The committee wanted to know whether a shared cycle/footpath to the south of Barton Hill could be removed from the plan, if lorries could access the site from the A134/143 roundabout on Compiegne Way and if traffic calming could be introduced along the A134 and Fornham Road.

The report to the committee said that after the additional information was submitted by the applicants, Suffolk County and the West Suffolk Councils, representations were received from 35 address, including the chairmen of Fornham St Martin cum St Genevieve, Great Barton and Fornham All Saints parish councils.

Most said it did not address their previous concerns.

The report noted applicants said the shared path was mainly for staff. Councillors felt its benefits would be outweighed by the loss of trees.

The applicants agreed omitting it would save the trees, avoiding an impact on the character of the area and saving ‘mitigation planting’. Officers did not consider the path was necessary to make the development acceptable.

The report said the A134/A143 roundabout would need ‘substantial landscape removal’ to improve visibility but points out the Fornham Road entrance would also require landscape work including removing a mature oak tree.

More significantly, the applicants said the A134/A143 access would restrict expansion of commercial businesses along the proposed route from the roundabout and commercial operators on the land are concerned it would bring hub traffic close to existing buildings and operations with possible ‘noise, air quality and vibration implications’.

The report said: “The applicants conclude that operational access to the proposed development via the A134/A143 roundabout would not be compatible with adjacent land uses.”

In addition, there are land ownership issues.

No further traffic calming measure are proposed on Fornham Road, but officers accepted signs and road lining proposed were of an appropriate standard.

The first two hours of the meeting were taken up with representations by parish, ward and county councillors and members of the public.

Only one member of the public backed the scheme. Steve Lumley, whose business Steve Lumley Planing is next to the site, said: “I still think it’s a suitable site.”

“A key point is about access to the A14 for the removal of materials from the site to Great Blakenham [incinerator].

“Everyone talks about the local access to the site but the larger vehicles will take the material away from the site.”

He also argued that the site was ideal for vehicles that need access the town from the transport depot part of the development, such as the sweepers that clean up on market days.

Long term objector Adrian Graves from Great Barton referred to the matters raised in July and argued: “The serious concerns raised then and since have neither been adequately recognised nor resolved.”

He warned that approval when it was against the council’s policies and Vision 2031 district plan risked ‘opening the Pandora’s box for developers’.

He added: “This application is being watched by developers and other authorities across the country who will latch on to this precedent as a device to circumvent due process and leverage approval of other difficult and controversial developments.”

Objectors also highlighted fire risks and fears the aquifer below Bury St Edmunds could be contaminated by fire fighting water if there was a blaze.

Ward councillor Beccy Hopfensperger was among those to call for a reduced speed limit on Fornham Road around the site entrance where she said the average speed was 55mph. She also argued that the visibility splays either side of the site exits were below the standard length yet poor visibility had been cited as a reason not to use the A134/143 roundabout.

Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council Cabinet member with responsibility for waste, told the meeting: “The importance of this application cannot be underestimated when looking at the wider Suffolk context. As we put in place the plans to build an Energy from Waste plant we always knew that we would need at least three transfer stations to allow the waste you collect as waste collection authorities to be deposited, put onto bigger lorries and taken to Great Blakenham.

“Currently your vehicles take the waste from Bury to Red Lodge only for us to truck it all the way back again to Great Blakenham.”

On highways issues, he added: “I would ask you to remember that the officers present today, are experts in the safety of the network and they, as professionals, can only give advice based on their professional experience and of course professional judgement and their only concern is safety of the public.”

Committee member Robert Everett asked for assurances fire risk had been considered and ‘good quality equipment’ was planned.

Charles Judson, case planning officer, said it had been subject to consultation with relevant authorities and complied with Environment Agency criteria to contain contaminated water.

Cllr Terry Clements, a former lorry driver, called for strong conditions on routes lorries could take to the site. He said: “There’s an opportunity for people to use these smaller roads – that’s what residents are concerned about.”

Mr Judson said there was a condition that a lorry management plan had to be approved which would require the use of the strategic lorry network. He said West Suffolk trucks are tracked and complaints about others would be logged.

Green councillor Julia Wakelam complained: “I don’t find the highways explanation of why an alternative access [via the A134/143 roundabout] wasn’t acceptable.

“It talks about possible implications on neighbouring land owners – these are ‘possible implications’ as opposed to positive implications on local residents.”

David Nettleton stressed the site was not part of Bury St Edmunds.

“This is the countryside,” he said. “Vision 2031 identifies this land as countryside and it’s grade two agricultural land which should be protected.”

He told rural councillors: “Who knows what the county council has in store for your wards if you approve this.”

But Ian Houlder, who seconded a vote for approval, argued that the site, with its views of the sugar factory, was ‘really rather ugly’ and would look better with the proposed landscaping.

On problems accessing the site he said: “That’s disparaging our professional lorry drivers – they’re doing that manoeuvre every day all over the country.”

In a joint statement after the meeting, Cllr Hicks, Peter Stevens, St Edmundsbury Borough Council Cabinet Member for Operations, and David Bowman, Forest Heath District Council Cabinet Member for Operations said: “We are pleased that the committee has taken the time to consider the application thoroughly and have balanced the need for a waste hub against the views put forward by some local members of the community and representatives.

“The Secretary of State will be informed of the decision in case he wants to call it on for review.

“We have undertaken a great deal of work to get to this point to address their concerns and this has been reflected in the committee’s decision. A waste hub is needed to deal with increasing levels of waste as our population grows, in a cost effective, efficient and sustainable manner.”

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Trump hires campaign workers instead of farm experts at USDA

President Donald Trump’s appointees to jobs at Agriculture Department headquarters include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company.

A POLITICO review of dozens of résumés from political appointees[1] to USDA shows the agency has been stocked with Trump campaign staff and volunteers who in many cases demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in agriculture. But of the 42 résumés POLITICO reviewed, 22 cited Trump campaign experience. And based on their résumés, some of those appointees appear to lack credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries.

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It’s typical for presidents to reward loyalists with jobs once a campaign is over. But what’s different under Trump, sources familiar with the department’s inner workings say, is the number of campaign staffers who have gotten positions and the jobs and salaries they have been hired for, despite not having solid agricultural credentials in certain cases. An inexperienced staff can lead to mistakes and sidetrack a president’s agenda, the sources say.

“There is a clear prioritization of one attribute, and that is loyalty,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director, who provided the documents after his organization received them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the group sought résumés for Trump administration political appointees from across the federal government and found an abundance of former campaign workers in positions that did not appear to match their qualifications. “The theme that emerges is pretty clear: What do you have to do to get an administration job? Work on the campaign,” he added.

USDA in a statement defended the hires: “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.”

The truck driver, Nick Brusky, was hired this year at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service — an agency tasked with developing overseas markets for U.S. agricultural trade goods — at one of the highest levels on the federal government’s pay scale, a GS-12, earning $79,720 annually. Though that pay grade requires a master’s degree or equivalent experience, it’s not clear from Brusky’s résumé whether he’s a college graduate. The document lists coursework in business management and political science at three universities from 2000 to 2013, but does not specify a graduation date.

Brusky served as a field representative for Trump’s campaign in the battleground state of Ohio, beginning in November 2016, while driving for a trucking company in Hilliard, where he also was a county commissioner. Brusky’s résumé shows he has no experience in cultivating international markets for trade goods, though he notes he has experience “hauling and shipping agricultural commodities.” It says he was twice elected to local office and was a legislative aide to an Ohio state representative from January 2009 until June 2012.

Another example: Christopher O’Hagan, an appointee as a confidential assistant at the Agricultural Marketing Service, which helps producers of food, fiber and specialty crop growers market their goods. O’Hagan graduated in 2016 from the University of Scranton with a major in history and a minor in economics. But his résumé lists only one example of work experience prior to joining the Trump campaign in January 2016 — employment as a cabana attendant at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, while in school.

Similarly, Trump campaign alum Tim Page, a 2016 graduate of Appalachian State University, is now at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency that helps farmers, ranchers and forest managers employ conservation practices. Page’s résumé indicates that he owns Cutting Edge LLC, a landscaping service in Connelly Springs, North Carolina.

“Much in the same way previous administrations have done, the USDA worked with the Presidential Personnel Office to place Schedule C appointees where they could be most helpful to the mission of the department,” the department said in an email to POLITICO. “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.“

O’Hagan, Page and Brusky did not respond to emails requesting comment and the USDA declined to make them available for this story.

Brusky, O’Hagan and Page are three of 10 confidential assistants whose résumés were among those obtained by American Oversight, along with the résumés of some career staff who are acting in leadership roles. All but one of the 10 touted their work to get the president elected, and most do not have agricultural experience. All of the appointees with this title are ranked as GS-11, GS-12 or GS-13, positions with annual salaries ranging from $60,210 to $85,816[2] at Step 1 of each grade. Two of the 10 didn’t list college degrees on their résumés, despite guidelines that call for anyone at GS-7 or higher to have completed a four-year degree.

Further, none of the confidential assistants indicated they had earned a master’s. Employees at the GS-9 level or higher are required by Office of Personnel Management guidelines to have obtained that level of education or equivalent experience.

The USDA said duties of a confidential assistant include “conducting research; preparing documents for special projects; overseeing correspondence control … receiving a wide variety of telephone inquiries from executives within and outside the USDA and from other agencies.”

O’Hagan and Page were hired at the GS-12 level and assigned to the secretary’s office, with a salary of $79,720. They were then transferred to their current roles, both of which are at the GS- 11 level and come with an annual salary of $66,510. Four other political appointees had their salaries reduced after they started.

“By the time these people are serving in confidential assistant roles, they are sitting on a very thin layer in government bureaucracy,” a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration, noting that the confidential assistant positions can be involved with technical decisions on policy matters. “If you just have someone with no higher education and no experience and no background in policymaking as the arbiter on these questions, that’s pretty unusual.”

Also in the ranks of USDA political appointees are the scented-candle company owner; a clerk at AT&T; a Republican National Committee intern; a part-time executive assistant and rental property manager; and a former Washington state senator who mentioned on his résumé that he was the first elected official in his state to back Trump’s candidacy.

The list of 42 appointees also includes seven special assistants, who command higher salaries than confidential assistants and generally have experience in policy and government. All of the special assistants are either GS-14 or GS-15, which start at $101,402 and 119,285, respectively. Three of the seven special assistants mentioned work on the campaign on their résumés.

In the early days of the Obama USDA, more experienced people coming off the campaign were given posts as confidential assistants, the former USDA official explained. They were tasked with assisting Senate-confirmed officials, taking notes during meetings and coordinating efforts with career staff.

Special assistants, by contrast, performed jobs for officials who did not require Senate confirmation, such as chiefs of staff, administrators and other leadership posts. There were some young staffers with ties to the campaign trail, sources conceded. The Obama team also pulled heavily from Capitol Hill staff to fill key roles, but only a handful of the appointees at USDA as of late last month have made a similar jump.

For the most part, the administration’s selections for leadership positions at USDA have been well received by industry and Capitol Hill. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a two-term governor of Georgia who also is a veterinarian and ran a host of agriculture-related businesses, got the endorsement of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the only Trump Cabinet official to be backed by his predecessor.

Perdue also has brought on board about a half-dozen policy advisers and high-level political staff who have backgrounds at influential agricultural policy groups or as staffers on relevant congressional committees or who served under Perdue during his time as Georgia governor. None of these hires listed campaign experience among their qualifications.

Meanwhile, even with the campaign loyalists who are now on the USDA staff, the administration is still behind schedule in hiring for the agency’s more than 200 political positions that span from Washington, D.C., to rural communities across all 50 states.

The combination of a thin political staff and a lack of appropriate expertise among the appointees could spell trouble for Purdue as he pushes forward with his reorganization plan and other policy objectives, said a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration.

“If you don’t have talented people, experienced people, people who know how policymaking works, there are a number of ways you can get your agenda sidetracked,” said the former staffer, who was granted anonymity to discuss staffing freely. Policymaking is filled with landmines — from congressional oversight to complicated rules related to acceptance of gifts, the source noted, adding: “What you can get is both the failure to take advantage of opportunities … and mistakes that will eat up time and energy.”

References

  1. ^ political appointees (www.politico.com)
  2. ^ $60,210 to $85,816 (www.opm.gov)
  3. ^ POLITICO Playbook (www.politico.com)
  4. ^ Show Comments (www.politico.com)