US Border Patrol Overtime Reform Bill Passed

The House Wednesday approved the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2013, which would dramatically simplify the current pay system for Border Patrol agents and addresses concerns raised by the Office of Special Counsel about the misuse of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) by the agency.

The Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act is a Senate version of legislation Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) cosponsored in the House. Now that it’s been passed by both the House and Senate, it now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it into law. Barber represents Cochise County, which has an 83-mile border with Mexico.

“This legislation … takes some commonsense steps to make some badly needed reforms to the overtime system at the Border Patrol, which is currently too complicated, too difficult to manage and enables waste and abuse,” said responded Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.). “This legislation will save millions of taxpayer dollars and curb misuse of the system – all while increasing the ability of the Border Patrol’s ability to secure our borders. In fact, one estimate I have seen shows that this bill would add the equivalent of 1,500 agents tothe border. That’s what I like to call a win-win … I applaud the House for passing this bipartisan piece of legislation.”

Barber said the legislation will create a more consistent and reliable salary system for Border Patrol agents while saving taxpayers’ money.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the reformed overtime pay system will save taxpayers $100 million each year, while resulting in the current Border Patrol workforce working an additional 2.5 million hours each year — or the equivalent of adding 1,500 full time agents.

“This bill will bring certainty to our Border Patrol agents and their families who sacrifice so much for our safety every day.” Barber said. “We owe this to our Border Patrol agents who have dedicated their lives to ensure that our borders are secure.”

However, according to sources familiar with the matter, the pay reform actually creates a 50 hour work week at straight pay. "There is not any overtime pay associated with it. It breaks down to straight pay for straight time with absolutely no benefits to the agents other than guaranteed extra hours of work," a source told Homeland Security Today. "Even after working over 100 hours in a pay period it will either pay straight comp time or overtime at management’s discretion."

Indeed. Many Border Patrol agents will actually earn less money under the new pay scheme, observers agreed.

‘‘I want to make it clear that no Border Patrol agent is happy about the prospect of losing $6,400 per year,” National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) President Brandon Judd said at a Senate hearing in June. “We are sacrificing a lot, but in the end, it will prove to be a boon for border security, the American public, the agency and the agents whom I represent.’’

The legislation was strongly supported by NBPC in a statement following passage of the legislation Wednesday.

“Border Patrol agents thank Congressman Barber for taking the lead on this issue to make sure our agent pay is stable,” Judd said, adding, “Congressman Barber is a great supporter of Border Patrol agents and we can’t thank him enough.”

Lawmakers began working on revamping CBP compensation in the wake of an Office of Special Counsel report found too many employees were abusing their overtime privileges.

In August, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime would be available to frontline field agents in the Border Patrol, first-line supervisors and field investigators.

The legislation addresses the overtime component within Border Patrol’s pay system established almost 40 years ago. AUO has been a frequent target in budget negotiations, leaving agents uncertain what they will be earning from year to year, Barber’s office said. The legislation resolves this problem and is expected to save taxpayers more than $1 billion over 10 years.

It replaces AUO with three options:

  • Work 80 hours in a pay period and receive straight pay;
  • Work 90 hours in a pay period and receive a 12.5 percent pay differential;
  • Or work 100 hours in a pay period and receive a 25 percent pay differential.

Barber has fought against Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget cuts that affect Border Patrol staffing levels and pay. Across-the-board budget cuts mandated by sequestration slashed CBP’s budget by $600 million.

“DHS responded last year with a plan to furlough Border Patrol agents for one day every two weeks and also eliminate overtime for agents. That would have compromised border security efforts while reducing by up to 40 percent the take-home pay of agents on the Southwestern border,” Barber’s office said, noting that, “Following legislation supported by Barber and passed by Congress that gave DHS additional funding, DHS officials came up with  a new plan to deal with the budget cuts. That plan eliminated the possibility of furloughs this fiscal year, and greatly reduced cuts to overtime pay of Border Patrol agents.”

Homeland Security Today reported in March 2013 that then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers prior to the sequester that, “I can tell you that under sequester our calculations are that we will lose in hours, including overtime, 5,000 Border Patrol agents over the next year out of the 21,370 that we actually have [for] boots on the ground. In terms of staffing at the actual ports of entry, we will be looking at furloughs of 12 to 14 days of every port officer working at a port. We are going to be looking at not being able to invest in the technology that is so important to make the most the most of the boots on the ground we have on the border.”

Napolitano called the sequester "destructive to our nation’s security and economy."

“The bill passed by the House today will end that battle to maintain overtime pay by instituting a new salary system and ensures those who put their lives on the line to secure our border will not have to worry about their pay,” Barber said.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents more than 16,500 Border Patrol agents and support staff, “applauded the House for passing” the legislation to reform the Border Patrol pay system.

“The current pay system simply is not in alignment with the demands our border security places on our agents, and the mission has suffered as a result,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “This reform is absolutely crucial for bringing stability and predictability to Border Patrol pay and will make a huge, positive contribution to our agents’ ability to provide the most effective border security.”

“We are proud of the tremendous effort our members exerted to get this legislation through the Senate and House in a time when there is little consensus on much else,” AFGE National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said. “Agents put their safety on the line to keep our country safe, and this reform ensures the black cloud of AUO will finally be lifted and replaced with a stable and predictable pay system."

“Democrats and Republicans worked side-by-side to give our Border Patrol agents the fair and equitable pay they deserve,” Cox said. “AFGE would not allow this issue to fall victim to the partisan gridlock that has stifled so many critical government programs in recent years. Thanks to all who dedicated their time and effort to delivering this key victory for our agents and national security.”

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