Furlough Reprieve at Customs and Border Protection?

Gregory Bull/AP file photo

Customs and Border Protection is “weighing its options” regarding the necessity of furloughs this fiscal year, according to union officials involved in negotiations. CBP had previously planned to furlough all 60,000 of its employees due to the across-the-board spending cuts from sequestration.

Shawn Moran, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council -- which represents U.S. Border Patrol agents -- said the union was told Thursday its members would not face furloughs, but the details are still being negotiated and nothing is final.

CBP gained flexibility in implementing sequestration from a stopgap spending bill President Obama signed into law Tuesday. The continuing resolution kept the across-the-board cuts in place, but provided extra funding to the Homeland Security Department -- CBP’s parent agency -- to ease the impact on border security.

A spokesman for CBP declined to comment on the status of negotiations or the possibility of eliminating furloughs, but said the agency is in the process of analyzing any changes in the new spending bill.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is working diligently to analyze the fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill and sequestration impacts,” the spokesman said, “and is developing a plan to implement this budget in a way that minimizes the impact on operations and our workforce.”

Even if Border Patrol agents -- who originally faced 14 days of furloughs -- are not forced to take unpaid leave, CBP may still institute a freeze on overtime, which Moran called the officers’ “bread and butter.”

Moran said the union has been kept in the dark for much of the process and accused CBP of not “meeting its statutory and contractual obligation to bargain.” The CBP spokesman would not comment on anything involving negotiations.

Lawmakers have criticized DHS for not prioritizing its sequestration cuts.

“The Obama administration’s actions amount to nothing short of a calculated, willful neglect of what should be a president’s top priority: protecting the homeland and keeping Americans safe,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, said Wednesday, of plans to furlough CBP employees and cut their overtime. “The fact that the administration would needlessly jeopardize the safety of American citizens as part of a continued misinformation campaign surrounding the effects of sequestration is outrageous and reprehensible.”

CBP would be the most recent in a string of agencies to reduce original estimates of sequestration’s impact. DHS initially planned to furlough its 50,000 Transportation Security Administration employees for seven days, but has since said the measure is not necessary. The Pentagon announced Wednesday it would furlough its civilian employees 14 days, rather than the 22 days originally scheduled, also citing flexibility from the new spending bill. 

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