The Washington Post

State Department practicing diplomacy on reporters?

Alan Bersin (right), once the Customs and Border Protections chief, is now special counselor to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (left). (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Only someone carefully checking the agency’s Web site would have noticed that David Aguilar, who had been the CBP’s acting commissioner, is now being identified as the deputy commissioner. There was no press release to that effect or any of the typical agencywide e-mails announcing the title switch.

It was a surprise, we hear, to employees. Turns out, the fact that there’s no commissioner, acting or otherwise, is the product of an administrative quirk.

Aguilar has been the deputy commissioner since 2010 and took on the role of acting commissioner when former Customs chief Alan Bersin resigned at the end of last year. Bersin was a recess appointee of President Obama’s — the White House named him to the position in March 2010 after the Senate did not act on his nomination — which meant his term expired at the end of 2011.

But Aguilar’s temporary seat-warming had a shelf life, too. By law, one can only serve in an “acting” capacity for so long, and Aguilar’s time was up.

Even though he no longer bears the title of acting commissioner, we hear Aguilar’s job hasn’t changed. “He remains the agency’s most senior official and exercises the same authorities and responsibilities as he did while serving as acting commissioner,” a spokesman confirms.

And his wasn’t the only title shuffle: Thomas Winkowski, who had been acting deputy commissioner, also has been named acting chief operating officer for the agency.

It looks like Customs will have to go without a permanent chief for a while longer. The White House never nominated a replacement for Bersin.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.


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