As congressional appropriators consider granting Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to avoid furloughs this year, one lawmaker is urging his colleagues to preserve overtime for the workforce as well.
Rep. Ron Barber, D-Az., whose district’s southern edge borders Mexico, wrote a letter to leadership on the House Appropriations Committee and its Homeland Security Subcommittee criticizing a proposal to cut overtime as unsafe for border security.
“Cuts to agents’ overtime hours will leave Border Patrol stations understaffed and forward operating bases unmanned,” Barber wrote. “This creates windows of opportunity for criminals to cross our borders.”
Additionally, Barber said, the plan places an “undue burden and heavy impact” on CBP families because it results in a “substantial reduction in hours and take-home pay.”
CBP asked congressional appropriators in May for permission to transfer money within its budget to avoid furloughing employees through Sept. 30. The committee is currently considering the request and will make a decision in mid-June.
“We received the request and are working with the agency now to address the furlough issue,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. “The request is still in process.”
Hing did not respond to a direct question on the overtime issue. Barber, however, said the cuts should come from other parts of the agency.
“I know that the department was faced with tough choices in how to implement the irresponsible, across-the-board cuts under sequestration,” Barber wrote. “But I believe it is imperative that funding is identified within the budget constraints to maintain security along the border. I ask you to make certain that every department expense has been scrutinized to ensure that CBP can maintain agent hours on the border.”
Originally, the Homeland Security Department -- CBP’s parent agency -- planned to furlough all 60,000 members of the CBP workforce for 14 days while eliminating overtime entirely. The agency temporarily postponed the unpaid leave until later in fiscal 2013 after a stopgap spending bill provided limited budgetary flexibility.
Acting CBP Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said in a May letter to employees that while the proposal would eliminate the need for furloughs in the current fiscal year, it would still require a “hiring freeze for non-frontline personnel, limited reductions in overtime and forgo ‘On the Spot’ and ‘Special Act’ monetary awards.”
A union official who represents CBP workers has called overtime agents’ “bread and butter.”