Customs and Border Employees Might Escape Furloughs

A Customs and Border Patrol agent and a security dog keep watch at a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. A Customs and Border Patrol agent and a security dog keep watch at a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas. Eric Gay/AP

Customs and border personnel could become the latest group of federal workers to receive a reprieve from furloughs this fiscal year.

Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the Homeland Security Department, asked congressional appropriators for permission on Friday to transfer money within its budget to avoid furloughing employees through Sept. 30 because of sequestration. Lawmakers have 30 days to decide whether to approve the request for what’s known as reprogramming authority.

That means CBP personnel should know their furlough fate for the rest of the fiscal year by about mid-June. Other employees who have escaped unpaid leave in fiscal 2013 include workers at the Federal Aviation Administration, Justice Department and Education Department.

Even if lawmakers grant the request, enabling CBP to eliminate employee furloughs through Sept. 30, the agency plans to continue a hiring freeze for non-frontline personnel and forgo certain bonuses, according to a May 17 memorandum to employees from CBP’s Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski. CBP also will keep in place limited reductions in overtime. “While these reductions are not without significance and will continue to impact our mission, they are preferable to the personal hardships and operational impact of incurring furloughs at this point in the fiscal year,” wrote Winkowski in the message.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents more than 20,000 CBP workers, said the reprogramming request was a “positive development” and urged lawmakers to grant approval quickly.

The agency in April announced that it would postpone furloughs at that time. CBP had originally planned to furlough all 60,000 members of its workforce because of the sequester, but the agency received flexibility from the continuing resolution that President Obama enacted at the end of March.

Kelley also said NTEU “will continue its efforts on Capitol Hill to increase CBP’s budget.”

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