Got a Quick Question?

Consultants often receive “Just a quick question?” queries from clients or others and everyone responds differently. Most likely the questioner believes that their question is an easy one and may be looking for pro bono service. In fact, while it is easy to ask a quick question, an accurate response is not always quick.

As a solo practitioner I know that I need to remain flexible while making sure that I am compensated for my time and expertise. Based on trial and error, here is how I handle “quick questions”.

Active clients– I truly value my long-term clients who are the foundation of my business. It is easier to keep clients than to gain new ones. So, if I can help a client on the spot, I will do so as a part of my service. This usually involves something simple like identifying a resource for them. If time and/or research is required I let the client know how I will handle the request and what I will charge. Most clients understand this approach because I have added value for them in the past. If they have frequent quick questions I may suggest my retainer service which allows them to prepay for brief consultations by choosing a set number of hours.

Prospective clients– Quick questions can lead to new business and I am happy to get them. I know my worth, however, so I am more selective in my responses. If the question is a simple one which I can answer on the spot I may choose do so as a “free sample”. If time and research is required I will propose the retainer option or quote a minimum charge. I will always try to learn about the potential client’s business so that I can determine their real needs and follow up at a later date.

Former colleagues– One of the benefits of being a FedEx alum is having excellent contacts all over the world. I appreciate referrals by former colleagues and I will always try to help them. Their referrals are my compensation. If they have a project requiring time and research I may ask them to connect me to the client if possible. I’m always happy to hear from former colleagues so don’t hesitate to reach out.

Friends and family- This is rare as I try not to mix personal with professional and I don’t want to charge friends or family. I will accommodate a minor request and give them a referral for anything more complex.

This method is not perfect but works well enough for me in my growing practice. I would be interested in hearing how other consultants handle “quick questions”


LinkedIn Comment- Court of Intl Trade

Mike Smiszek

Senior Trade Compliance Advisor at Braumiller Consult

On April 25, 2023, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed a decision by the Court of Int’l Trade (CIT) in Byungmin Chae v. Janet Yellen.  Mr. Chae sat for the customs broker exam in April of 2018, but fell short of achieving a passing grade.  He unsuccessfully filed two administrative appeals, and then decided to try his luck in the CIT, where again he was unsuccessful. And now the CAFC has had the final word (and no, this is not a case that the Supreme Court would even consider looking at).  The CAFC looked in depth at the three exam questions that Mr. Chae was challenging.  The first question discussed the types of customs transactions that were required to be performed by a licensed broker.  The second discussed whether certain mail articles were subject to inspection by CBP.  And the third question was a classification question: was a certain piece of wall art classified in chapter 49 or chapter 97?  The CAFC gave Mr. Chae credit only for his answer on the first question, which wasn’t enough to reach a passing grade.

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t understand why anyone would spend so much time and effort pursuing multiple appeals that probably wouldn’t end well.  And, there have been TEN license examinations since Mr. Chae sat for the exam.  Why not just sit for one of these exams and pass it?  If he passed a subsequent exam he’d be looking today at his mahogany-framed license on the wall.  Instead, he’s back at square one.  Here is the CAFC’s opinion:

Status is online

Mitch Kostoulakos, LCB  Hoc Logistics LLC, Licensed Customs Broker, International Logistics Consultant

I agree with you Mike. Many brokers have needed a couple of tries to pass the exam.

World Bank LPI

The World Bank has published their Logistics Performance Index for the first time since 2018.

The LPI 2023 ranks countries on six dimensions of trade — including customs performance, infrastructure quality, and timeliness of shipments. The data used in the ranking comes from a survey of logistics professionals answering questions about foreign countries with which they operate. Supply Chain Tracking data has been added to the 2023 LPI, measuring the speed of trade around the world.

The Global Rankings show the US at 17th (tied with Republic of Korea) down from 14th in 2018.

Plenty of data here for trade geeks:

TRB Appointment

I am honored to accept appointment for another term.

Dear Mr. Mitch Kostoulakos,

On behalf of the Transportation Research Board (TRB), I am pleased to offer you the following appointment:

Member, Main Member Slot — Standing Committee on International Trade and Transportation — AT020

Term – April 15, 2023 – April 14, 2026

TRB is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. Members of the National Academies’ technical committees serve as individuals, not as representatives of the organizations by which they are employed or of which they may be members. Through their appointment, members agree to actively participate in and support the committee’s activities, including those that will require volunteer work. More information about the roles and responsibilities of committee membership is available at


Thank you to Scot Snyder for inviting me to speak at the Troops 2Logistics Symposium this week. I believe that military experience is a great fit for a career in logistics.

Customs Broker qualifications came up in the discussion and it was noted that current federal government employees are not eligible to take the CBLE (Customs Broker License Exam). I wanted to check with CBP if this restriction applied to active duty military or reservists. I received a quick response from CBP Broker Management that the restriction does apply to both active duty military as well as reservists. This is somewhat surprising. As a former reservist I know that being able to serve part time while continuing in a civilian career is attractive to many people.

From: <>
Sent: Thursday, April 13, 2023 4:21 PM
Subject: broker requirements

Hello, I am an individually licensed broker and have a question. I know that employees of the US government are not eligible to become brokers. Does this apply to members of the military on active duty or to reservists?

Thank you

Mitch Kostoulakos, LCB


Date: April 13, 2023 at 21:35:52 EDT
Subject: RE: broker requirements

Yes, it does apply to active duty military and reserves.

Broker Management Branch

Office of Trade

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

LinkedIn Comment- CBLE info

Lisa Hill

Status is online

Lisa Hill(She/Her) • 1st(She/Her) • 1stSenior Manager, Logistics at Sappi North America

A colleague is taking the CHB exam in Worcester, MA. Can anyone offer insight into the specific testing center in Worcester and what to be prepared for? Thanks!

Mitch Kostoulakos, LCB Ad Hoc Logistics LLC, Licensed Customs Broker, International Logistics Consultant

Hi Lisa, here is a link to exam info …I don’t see Worcester listed as an in person exam site

CBLE Anxiety

If you are scheduled to sit for the CBLE (Customs Broker License Exam) on April 26th your preparations have most likely included practice exams as well as a deep dive into the HTS tariff and customs regulations. Not to mention blood, sweat, and tears.

Let me suggest also reviewing the notifications on the CBP website so that you don’t have an unexpected complication on exam day. The notifications include details about Covid restrictions, reference materials allowed, and ID/Proof of Citizenship requirements. There are separate sections for remote and in-person test takers.

Here is the link to the notifications:

Best of luck on April 26th!

LinkedIn Comment- Passing the CBLE

Jedd Lancaster

Jedd LancasterSales & Marketing Manager | Alliance Drawback ServicesSales & Marketing Manager | Alliance Drawback Services

Trade compliance folks. I’ve been flirting with a personal goal to take and pass the CBLE, and I wanted to reach out for general input and advice. I’ve done research, but with so much information out there I’d like to narrow my focus.

For the LCBs out there, what resources did you find beneficial in helping you pass the exam?

Mitch Kostoulakos, Ad Hoc Logistics LLC, Licensed Customs Broker, International Logistics Consultant

Jedd, as you can see from the responses a great deal of prep is needed. Here is what worked for me…

Alphabet Soup

Most exporters understand that HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) or Schedule B classification is the first step in export compliance. Other critical factors are ECCN (Export Control Classification Number) or EAR99, License/License Exception or NLR (No License Required), and Country of Origin. EAR99 is the designation for a commodity that is subject to the EAR (Export Administration Regulations) but not specifically described by an ECCN on the CCL. Got all that?

I have found that in many cases using EAR99 and NLR is assumed rather than researched. That is malpractice in export compliance. We’ll cover ECCN in this post.

Order of Review– Determine if your commodity is subject to the EAR (Export Administration Regulations). Use BIS decision tree.

CCL (Commerce Control List)– If your commodity falls under the EAR it is either EAR99 or requires an ECCN. EAR99 means that an item is subject to Export Administration Regulations but is not listed with a specific ECCN. Check the CCL.

CCL Index- The CCL is not especially user friendly but the CCL Index is a good resource. If you find your commodity in the index you can then dig deeper into the CCL.

For help with ECCN classification contact

LinkedIn Comment- Advice

Lindsay Wardlaw

Lindsay WardlawTrade Compliance Expert

Hi LinkedIn!

I have been asked to talk to two separate groups of students over the next two weeks about careers in trade compliance and about running a trade compliance program.

Is there any advice you would share with an undergraduate considering starting a career in international trade or an attorney thinking about moving to (or even starting in) corporate compliance?

Mitch Kostoulakos, LCB Ad Hoc Logistics LLC, Licensed Customs Broker, International Logistics Consultant

C-level executive involvement and commitment is critical to the success of a compliance program. Your students will probably not have access to C-level in the early stages so advise them to find a mentor who is respected in the organization and has access to C-level.