March 12, 2013
By J. David Cox Sr., National President American Federation of Government Employees
On Friday, March 1, hours after he signed the sequester order, President Obama tried to describe to the press the impact of sequester on federal employees, active duty military and their families. He referred to ‘Border Patrol agents in the hot sun getting a 10 percent pay cut…’
Just as ‘the hot sun’ is hardly the biggest risk Border Patrol agents take while performing their duties, the 10 percent pay cut to which the president referred is only a small portion of the economic pain the Department of Homeland Security has in store for them. In fact, DHS has singled out Border Patrol agents to receive by far the largest financial penalty of any other group of federal workers. The plan DHS has chosen for Border Patrol agents will mean a 35 percent decline in their paychecks for the rest of the fiscal year and beyond.
Border Patrol agents have been singled out to lose 75 percent more of their paychecks than even civilian Department of Defense workers who face 22 days without pay (for a 20 percent pay cut). Secretary Napolitano has announced that she intends not only to furlough Border Patrol agents for 14 days, but also to impose a total moratorium on routine overtime pay. Together these policies will reduce the paycheck of a typical Border Patrol agent by 35 percent. Even within their own agency, these cuts stand out for lopsidedness and severity. For example, officers who police the ports and provide customs enforcement will be furloughed 14 days but retain overtime; there is every reason to believe that they will make up wages lost to furlough with compensatory overtime so that cargo and passengers will continue to move through ports of entry. But with this anti-Border Patrol policy, illegal “cargo and passengers” will likely flow into the U.S. as well.
Guarding the border is not a nine-to-five job. Overtime work is routine, and when they are hired, agents are informed that they will almost never work a regular eight-hour shift. Instead, they are expected to work at least 10 hours every day and often more because they do not stop when they are in pursuit of drug and gun smugglers and others engaging in criminal activity on the border. But with the sequester policy DHS has fashioned for Border Patrol, agents will be instructed to stop working at the moment their straight shift ends. Good news for criminals and others who would enter our country illegally; but very bad news for Americans who rely on the courage and devotion of Border Patrol agents who risk their lives every day to keep drugs and guns and gangs outside our borders.
We urge Secretary Napolitano to rethink this terrible decision. It is wrong for border security, and it is wrong to single out Border Patrol agents for such drastic and undeserved economic pain. Border Patrol agents are law enforcement professionals, and this policy will undermine their ability to carry out their mission to guard the border and protect American citizens. Apart from the inequity in the size of the economic sacrifice being demanded of them, they do not want to let criminal gangs and smugglers go just because their shift has ended. The moratorium on overtime combined with 14 furlough days must be reconsidered.