Several years ago, a student approached me after failing the Customs Broker Exam twice in succession. She had spent thousands of dollars over several months of preparation with a well-known trainer. She had failed the second time by just one point which was extremely disappointing for her. Her test preparation instructor advised her to retake the test, but she sought my advice on what other options, if any, were available to her.
I compared her answer sheet with CBP’s official answers and found five questions where the CBP’s official answers could be challenged on various substantive grounds. I prepared and helped her file an appeal challenging five of CBP’s official answers for the test. The CBP accepted my arguments in four of the appealed questions and declared her as having passed the Exam. Passing this critical test enabled her to jump start her career and she received quick promotions over the next few years as an immediate result.
The Customs and Border Protection agency is not a testing agency and they mostly collect questions from field formations. Questions are also repeated with some minor variations. The test is not standardized, and the degree of difficulty is seen to vary from test to test. In almost every Customs Broker Exam, there are usually a few questions which could either have multiple correct answers or no correct answers.
Sometimes the question may contain incomplete or inadequate information to answer it correctly. For example, one previous test had a classification question which mistakenly used diameter instead of circumference as the criterion for classification of bicycle wheels. In another case, there was a question on drawback which could not be answered correctly because the date of export was not specified in the question. Every year, a small number of candidates are able to pass the test by successfully challenging some of the CBP’s official answers.
Under 19 CFR § 111.13 (f), an examinee may challenge a failed result by filing a written appeal with the Office of Trade at the Headquarters of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Attn: Broker Management Branch, within 60 calendar days after the date of the written notice of the result. CBP will provide to the examinee written notice of the decision on the appeal. If the CBP decision on the appeal affirms the result of the examination, the examinee may request review of the decision on the appeal by writing to the Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Trade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, within 60 calendar days after the date of the notice on that decision.
Further, under 19 CFR § 111.17 (c) the denial of an application for a customs broker license may be appealed to the Court of International Trade, provided that the appeal action is commenced within 60 calendar days after the date of entry of the Secretary’s decision.
Therefore, a first appeal can be filed with the Office of Trade. If the examinee is not satisfied with the decision on appeal, a further appeal can be filed with the Assistant Commissioner. And because a failure in the Customs Broker Exam results in the denial of a broker license, further appeal can be filed with the Court of International Trade. However, it is necessary to review the grounds carefully prior to filing any appeals to avoid wasting time on frivolous appeals.
If you happen to fail the Customs Broker Exam by a few points, it is worthwhile to review the official CBP answers carefully to determine whether there are strong grounds to challenge any of the ones that you got wrong. The first thing you must do is to request a copy of your answer sheet to understand which of your answers were marked as incorrect.
If there are valid grounds to support your answer or if you can establish that the questions had missing information or had other deficiencies due to which there was more than one correct answer or no correct answers, then it may be worthwhile to file an appeal. However, since the appeal process is lengthy, and the result is published only just before the next exam, you may still have to prepare to take the next exam while you await the result of your appeal.
If you need assistance in determining whether to file an appeal, please contact us with the details of the questions that were marked incorrect in your Customs Broker Exam.