The man behind the successful Global Entry program for international travelers


(Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

American travelers flying back to the United States from overseas can avoid long lines and lengthy wait times if they are enrolled in the government’s Global Entry program, an initiative led by John Wagner, a senior manager with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Wagner was the driving force behind the development and implementation of the hugely successful program, which allows enrolled travelers to bypass the regular immigration control lines and proceed directly to a kiosk that scans their passports and fingerprints, issues a transaction receipt and directs them to baggage claim and the exit.

“John is dynamic, innovative and really helped transform the international arrivals process,” said Kevin McAleenan, the CPB acting deputy commissioner.

Under the Global Entry program, travelers apply, pay a fee and submit their data online to CBP for background checks. The application process involves a personal interview with a CBP officer, who fingerprints the applicant.

Once enrolled, a traveler is able to use automated, biometrics based, self-service kiosks upon arrival in the United States from abroad. Besides validating passports and fingerprints, the kiosk performs database queries and accepts an electronic customs declaration. Members can clear through customs, immigration and agriculture processing in minutes.

Colleagues said Wagner led the development of the online application process, the kiosk design and operation, the policy guidance for adjudication of applications and the program’s rules and requirements. Wagner also worked closely with the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to link the Global Entry program to the TSA Pre-check program so members may obtain expedited security screening when flying domestically.

The Global Entry program is offered at 52 international airports and has enrolled more than 2.5 million travelers. The kiosks have been used more than 9.1 million times since 2008, and have allowed CBP to reinvest inspection resources in other more productive areas since the kiosks now process approximately 8 to 10 percent of all arriving air travelers. The increased use of Global Entry resulted in savings equivalent to 60 CBP officers in fiscal 2013.

“John is one of the most visionary people we have at CPB,” said Dan Tanciar, who handles travel and tourism initiatives for CPB. “He was the man behind the Global Entry program and is constantly thinking outside the box.”

Last year, Wagner worked closely with airport representatives to develop a new kiosk-based program called Automated Passport Control. This program does not require pre-enrollment or a fee like Global Entry, but is designed to help those with U.S. passports move more quickly through the U.S. border clearance process.

Under this program, a traveler must be interviewed by a CBP officer after using the kiosk, but automating part of the inspection has allowed CPB officers to focus solely on questioning individual and paying attention to behavioral responses rather than spending valuable time on administrative processes. Wait times have been reduced by 30 to 40 percent at the 15 airports where the kiosks have been installed.

Wagner led the development of the operational policy guidance as well as the business and information technology requirements for airports and airlines to purchase, deploy and maintain their own kiosks and software.

In addition, Wagner developed a process to replace the serial numbered paper I-94 form that travelers with a visa needed to fill out upon arrival in the U.S. This change has saved CBP approximately $15 to $17 million annually in data entry costs, and cut back on inspection times of CPB officers.

Wagner started his federal career with the U.S. Customs Service 22 years ago as an inspector in at the New York/New Jersey seaport and later at the Port of Laredo in Texas before being assigned to headquarters. In April, Wagner became acting assistant commissioner in CPB’s Office of Field Operations, overseeing nearly 28,000 employees, operations at over 329 ports of entry and many programs that support the agency’s national security, immigration, customs and commercial trade-related missions.

Wagner said at the end of the day, a big part of his job has been focused on “redesigning the international arrivals process to make it more secure, more efficient and to create a more welcoming environment.”

As a result, Wagner said he is “contributing to the national security of the country” and “helping promote travel and tourism that will benefit the economy.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.

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