Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have proposed a new salary plan for Border Patrol agents that could cost them an average of $7,000 a year in lost pay and spark what some say would be an exodus of veteran agents to higher-paying agencies.
The still-pending proposal by CBP to convert Border Patrol agents from a pay program known as "Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO)" to an alternative plan called "Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP)" has been described by rank-and-file agents as "unwarranted" and comes at a time the agency has significantly increased its presence along the Southwest border to combat skyrocketing crime by brutal drug cartels.
"Every day, Border Patrol agents along Americas border put their lives on the line to keep our nation safe," said Chris Bauder, executive vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents more than 17,000 of the agency's non-supervisory agents. "They deserve the pay they receive, and any reduction is an insult to the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women of the Border Patrol."
Mr. Bauder, a veteran agent himself, said the "compensation reform" package offered by CBP would force agents to "work for free" by eliminating pay for any work beyond 10 hours, the normal workday; would cost a GS-12 agent between $6,600 and $8,600 in salary a year, depending on their experience; and would lower "the already very low morale" within the agency.
He said the proposal means that an agent currently maintaining an average of 20 hours of AUO per pay period and currently covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) would make $86,011 per year versus $92,661 per year, regardless of how many overtime hours they worked.
"Demanding that employees work for free is grossly unfair to front-line Border Patrol agents and their families," Mr. Bauder said. "No group of federal law enforcement officers has been called upon to sacrifice more than front-line Border Patrol agents.
"If this plan were to go into effect, there would be very little incentive for Border Patrol agents to continue their employment with the Border Patrol," he said.
Border Patrol agents are trained and certified as law enforcement personnel, and often are recruited by other federal policing agencies.
Because of the nature of the job, most Border Patrol agents average at least two hours of overtime a day and the agency, as part of its ongoing recruitment effort, has promised what it called an "excellent opportunity for overtime pay."
AUO covers employees in positions that require substantial amounts of irregular, unscheduled overtime work that cannot be controlled administratively, with the employee generally being responsible for recognizing, without supervision, circumstances that require them to remain on duty.
LEAP pays for all regularly and irregularly scheduled overtime that is part of the first two overtime hours on a regular workday only if the agents have an annual average of two or more hours of unscheduled duty per workday. LEAP recipients, unlike AUO, are not covered by the FLSA, which guarantees overtime pay for overtime work.
Officials at CBP's Office of Human Resources Management offered the pay proposal in October, saying in a report a switch from AUO to LEAP would address the varied interests and issues of CBP front-line employees while enhancing the agency's mission capability.
They said the proposal would save more than $110 million by simplifying the administration of overtime for managers and employees. They also said it would create a single retirement system for all law enforcement officers, enhance CBP officer positions, and pay agents based on a "special salary rate" table.
The proposal, presented to the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), was approved for inclusion in President Obama's 2012 federal budget proposal.
The pay plan is being offered at a time that border enforcement has become a priority for both Republicans and Democrats over the past two decades. The enforcement budget increased sevenfold from 1980 to 1995 and more than tripled from 1995 to 2003. Border Patrol appropriations have grown from $1.06 billion in fiscal 2000 to $3.58 billion in fiscal 2011 - an increase of 238 percent.
The bulk of the increase has taken place since the formation of Homeland Security in 2003 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Border Patrol manpower has more than doubled to 20,000 over the past decade.
Representatives from the National Border Patrol Council, Local 2366, in Del Rio, Texas, met earlier this year with Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas to express their concern about the possible conversion from the AUO system to what the local described as a "corrupted version" of LEAP.
"The proposal is not a misguided effort on the part of CBP to be fiscally responsible. Instead, it will be used for a variety of other measures which CBP feels are more important than Border Patrol agent compensation," the local said in a posting on its website.
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