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Cuts will worsen airport wait times, customs officials say

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Customs officials said travelers entering the United States are having delays at large airports because of federal spending cuts and that worse problems are on the way.

Agencies within the Department of Homeland Security initiated a hiring freeze and reduced overtime when the $85 billion in spending cuts across the government began on Friday.

Customs and Border Protection said it reduced its number of checkpoint lanes to cut overtime staffing during the weekend, and waiting times for arriving passengers seeking to clear checkpoints spiked at some airports.

Typically, 25 percent to 40 percent of the lanes at two top international gateways — New York's JFK airport and Miami International — would have been staffed with employees on overtime, according to the agency.

On Saturday morning at JFK, the agency says, passengers from 56 flights waited over two hours to clear customs, and passengers from 14 flights waited longer than three hours. In Miami, passengers from 51 flights waited longer than two hours, and passengers from four flights had to wait longer than three hours.

“These wait times are not typical for this time period and are related to decreased booth staffing,” the agency said.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, said Monday that wait times at customs checkpoints and at Transportation Security Administration security checkpoints for departing passengers will get longer with reduced overtime and a hiring freeze even before furloughs begin in a month.

“We will see these effects cascade over the next week,” Napolitano told a breakfast sponsored by Politico.

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