How Pay Reform Could Solve the Border Crisis

Border Patrol agents from the McAllen station horse patrol unit on patrol in South Texas. Border Patrol agents from the McAllen station horse patrol unit on patrol in South Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Lawmakers have lots of ideas to solve the current border crisis, but none of them are very popular.

Partisan rancor has reached a crescendo this week as Democrats and Republicans weigh the merits of providing Customs and Border Protection and other agencies with an emergency surge in funding to deal with the thousands of Central American children who have made their way to the U.S. border.

President Obama asked for $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis through the end of the fiscal year. Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democratic effort to give affected agencies $2.7 billion. The House on Friday night passed a last-minute bill that would provide $694 million in funding, but the Senate had already left for recess. 

While Congress attempts to come up with a workable solution, one group has said the answer is in cutting spending, not adding it.

The National Border Patrol Council said a measure to overhaul the pay system for Border Patrol agents would be the most effective means to secure the border. NBPC President Brandon Judd said instead of spending money to mobilize National Guard troops to the border, Congress should authorize BP to spend less money on personnel. Doing so, Judd said, would enable BP to be “fully staffed at the border.”

Under the 2013 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, agents would be able to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week period. Any amount worked between 80 hours and the schedule they choose would be compensated as overtime, or time and a half. And any amount exceeding the total agreed upon hours in a pay period -- which BP management and advocates said occurs regularly and allows agents to remain in pursuit of criminals when their shift ends -- would be rewarded through compensatory time off.

The legislation, which attempts to standardize pay for Border Patrol agents and prevent them from double dipping into overtime compensation through the use of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, would save $100 million annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Those savings could be applied directly to addressing the current situation at the border.

“This is not rocket science,” Judd said. “When crime increases in our communities, we respond by putting more law enforcement officers on the streets. Right now we have trained, highly skilled agents who cannot be deployed in the field due to across-the-board federal agency cuts. The pay reform bill enables us to fully deploy our agents, step up efforts to stop the smuggling of dangerous drugs and exploitation of people and to save taxpayers’ money. Congress needs to act urgently and pass this legislation so we can do our jobs.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who introduced the bill in the Senate with bipartisan support, agreed that his legislation should be part of any solution. A spokesman added, however, it cannot be the only action Congress takes.

“While [Tester] believes any border solution must be comprehensive,” said Dan Malessa, a spokesman for the senator, “he believes his pay reform bill would be a big step forward for smarter border security.”

In addition to bolstering the border, Obama has proposed providing emergency funds to the Health and Human Services and Justice departments to care for the children and represent them in immigration court. 

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