Customs and Border Protection has begun sending agency-wide furlough notices to its employees. More than 60,000 people are employed by CBP. The agency is issuing the furloughs to deal with the 5 percent reduction in salaries and expenses funding it faces due to sequestration.
A copy of a furlough notice, obtained by Federal News Radio, says furloughs will begin no earlier than April 21 and will continue through the end of the fiscal year. Full-time employees can expect no more than 14 days off, while furloughs for part-time employees will be prorated.
“Due to the uncertain and potential fluctuating amount of funding which may be available to CBP, the number of hours per pay period required for the furlough may vary,” the notice stated. “Accordingly, if the decision is made to furlough, you will be advised in advance of each pay period of the number of furlough hours required to allow CBP to meet its financial obligations.”
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 24,000 CBP employees, said it has begun formal furlough bargaining with CBP.
“The proposed 14 days of furloughs would result in the drastic loss of nearly three weeks’ pay for dedicated frontline workers,” said Colleen Kelley, president of NTEU. “Our goal is to mitigate the effects of these furloughs to the greatest extent possible and to ensure they are applied equitably.”
Border Patrol agents say they’re getting the short end of sequestration’s stick.
“Customs and Border Protection has used sequestration as political cover to slash salary,” National Border Patrol Council Vice President Shawn Moran told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.
“They’ve been charged with getting rid of $285 million worth of salary, $245 million of which comes directly from Border Patrol agents,” he said.
The agency is looking at budget cuts totaling $754 million before the end of the fiscal year, according to CBP’s Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar. In a message to employees, he said the agency is also implementing a hiring freeze, reducing and eliminating overtime and compensatory time, as well as making cuts to travel and training.
Moran said the combination of furloughs and overtime reductions would cut agents’ pay by 40 percent. The $245 million would come out of “administratively uncontrollable overtime,” which accounts for the ninth and tenth hours of work the agents put in every day.
“We’re not asking for more money,” Moran said. “We’re just asking for what we were promised by the federal government to do our job.”
According to Moran, the overtime hours are part of what new agents are promised when they are hired, a practice that has been around since the 1960s.
“They’re told that they’re going to regularly work overtime,” he said. “And most people, when you hear overtime, you think that someone’s being paid time-and-a-half. That’s not the case. This is little more than straight pay, and it’s what agents are expected to do as a regular part of the job.”
In the furlough notice, CBP said it “recognizes the difficult personal financial implications of any furlough, no matter how limited its length.”
When asked to specifically address Moran’s claim that agents’ salaries will be reduced by 40 percent, a CBP spokesman told Federal News Radio, “CBP’s planned furlough of employees, along with reductions to overtime, will reduce take home earnings for many members of the CBP workforce. CBP is focusing its remaining resources on its core mission areas, operating in the way that is least disruptive to the facilitation of lawful travel and trade and our employees, while not compromising our security mission. Because CBP is reducing, but not absolutely eliminating overtime pay, and because the length of the sequestration is unknown, it is difficult to project the impact of the reductions on individual employees or job occupations with any degree of certainty.”
On top of the furloughs and cutbacks in overtime, Moran said CBP is implementing other cost-cutting measures, like fuel consumption.
“Agents are being shuttled out to the field in vans,” he said. “Vehicles are being left out on the border and agents are being brought to them. Some sectors are putting two agents in a vehicle. That’s the plan once these cuts go into effect.”
Moran called these types of cuts a real problem since the agency employs a deterrent-based strategy.
“It’s about getting the most bodies to the border and trying to keep people out,” he said. “So, if you have 20 people working a 5-mile stretch and then you double them up in vehicles, you’ve now cut yourself by 50 percent in terms of how much area you can effectively cover.”
Moran conceded that the number of people coming across the border is lower than it has been in years but, he said, that could all change with fewer agents in the field. “Any time there’s any talk about lax border security, we see business start to pick up in some of our busier sectors,” he said.
The council is asking its 17,000 members and others to contact their elected officials. The organization has also issued furlough guidance for its members.
“Everyone call or write their elected representatives and tell them that they want their borders secured, even during the sequestration,” Moran said. “This isn’t something that we can take lightly.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.