CBP ports director Peg Fearon retires

Published on Thu, Jan 15, 2009 by Meg Olson

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CBP ports director Peg Fearon retires

By Meg Olson

The woman at the helm during the sweeping changes at local borders over the last several years is stepping down.

Peg Fearon, area ports director for Blaine area ports of entry is retiring at the end of January, 2009.

Fearon has been the Blaine area port director since January 2000 when she took over the post for what was then the U.S. Customs Service, one of several agencies managing the border, and was responsible for customs operations at the ports of Point Roberts, Peace Arch, Pacific Highway, Lynden and Sumas.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Fearon said, “everything changed.”

“Our mission changed after 9/11,” Fearon said. “The focus became anti-terrorism when before it had been trucks and cargo and drugs.”

The agencies running the port changed as well, with the formation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Customs and Border Protection was created as an umbrella agency, which brought together customs, immigration and agriculture under unified management. Fearon was officially named area port director for the new agency in February 2003.

“When we merged there was a whole learning curve,” Fearon said. “I inherited two other agencies and everything that went under it.” She also inherited 10 other ports when district managers in Seattle reorganized to streamline management and communications. From 200 employees and five ports, Fearon has become manager of 15 ports from Western Washington into Idaho and 550 employees.

Fearon joined U.S. Customs in 1975 as an inspector in Champlain, New York. “For 12 years I was just like the people on the line,” she said. The difference between then and now is not only a new mission and the combined regulations of agencies, but mushrooming technology to handle higher security and more information. “When I was an inspector you had a computer where you could manually check a license plate,” Fearon said. “Now they have all sorts of information at the touch of a fingertip, and new requirements to fit in with that. There’s a lot more an inspector is expected to know. Now terrorism is on the mind of every officer and then we didn’t even have it on the radar.”

In 1987 Fearon moved to Customs headquarters in Washington D.C., and became a program manager for programs from uniforms and firearms to budget management. “I worked my way up the ladder in a lot of different offices,” she said. When she came to Blaine she said she was looking for a change and a challenge, and she got it. “There have been a lot of changes to stay on top of,” she said.

With a new facility under construction, the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and stricter identification requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative coming into effect this summer, Fearon acknowledged the challenges will keep coming, but she put special emphasis on the ability of her team to handle them. “It’s a wonderful group of employees here and they work very, very hard,” she said.

“They can at times get painted with a large brush based on one incident or one officer’s behavior, which is unfortunate. I’m very proud to have worked with them.”