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Border Patrol agents dodge sequestration, avoid furloughs, pay cuts

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2013

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has postponed plans to furlough Border Patrol agents as a result of sequestration, which would have taken as many as 5,000 agents off the line, and also has delayed a proposed cut in overtime pay that would have cost each agent $7,000 a year.

"In light of the Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations bill and sequestration impacts, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is re-evaluating previously planned furloughs and de-authorization of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) and will postpone implementation of both at this time," said CBP spokesman Anthony Bucci in an email response.

"Although the budget reductions imposed by sequestration are significant, the bill's provisions allow CBP to mitigate to some degree the impacts of the reduced budget on operations and on CBP's workforce," Mr. Bucci said.

CBP, he said, continues to assess the "exact impact" the legislation will have on "our operations and our workforce."

The National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 17,000 nonsupervisory agents, offered cautious praise for the move, which it chalked up to public pressure but which it also warned could still be changed.

The council "sees this as a result of the public outcry to secure this nation's borders and to fairly compensate Border Patrol agents," it said in a statement. "While the situation appears better for Border Patrol agents, we have seen CBP subvert the intent of Congress before."

CBP announced the furloughs and overtime cuts as part of the Congress-mandated sequestration. Furlough notices were sent to thousands of CBP personnel, including Border Patrol agents, because of required budget cuts. The agents would have been mandated to have a furlough day each pay period resulting in a cumulative loss of 5,000 agents in the field. Beginning in mid-April, the agents each would have lost 14 workdays through September.

On March 2, the Border Patrol's normal 10-hour work shifts were ordered cut to eight hours. The cuts were necessary, CBP officials said, to account for $754 million in mandated spending reductions for the agency after President Obama and Congress failed to reach an agreement on the budget to prevent sequestration.

Border Patrol agents normally work 10-hour days, part of a program known as "administratively uncontrolled overtime." It is how the agents were hired, most of whom signed on as part of a recruitment drive that promised an "excellent opportunity for overtime pay."

Uncontrolled overtime 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 him to remain on duty.

Under sequestration, the elimination of overtime pay could cost field agents an average of $7,000 a year and spark what some say could be an exodus of veteran agents to other agencies.

While CBP proposed overtime cuts totaling $285 million, Border Patrol agents noted that their share of that amount was $248 million. Cuts for two other CBP agencies were listed at $35 million for the Office of Field Operations and $2 million for the Office of Air and Marine. The National Border Patrol Council said there was an "enormous disparity" in the proposed cuts.

While the Border Patrol and the Office of Field Operations have about the same number of people, the patrol council said the Office of Field Operations is mandated to make up 6.4 percent of the budget cut while the Border Patrol "appears to be picking up the lion's share of the tab" with 87 percent of the proposed cuts.

"Every day, Border Patrol agents along America's border put their lives on the line to keep our nation safe," said Chris Bauder, National Border Patrol Council president. "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."

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