Amid Overtime Scandal, Lawmakers to Pitch New Pay Structure for Border Agents

Senior Border Patrol Agent Sheldon Cooper monitors the International Railroad Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y. Senior Border Patrol Agent Sheldon Cooper monitors the International Railroad Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y. David Duprey/AP File Photo

Lawmakers plan to pitch an overhaul to the pay and overtime system used to compensate U.S. Border Patrol agents, according to a union representing the law enforcement officers.

The overtime payments came under fire last week when the Office of Special Counsel reported widespread abuse, in which employees were claiming overtime they did not actually work. The National Border Patrol Council defended its members’ use of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime -- or AUO -- but said it would back the reforms Congress will soon consider.

“Patrolling the border is an unpredictable duty that often requires agents to go above and beyond the eight-hour shift to effectively protect the country,” NBPC said in a statement defending overtime practices. “You can’t control when a dangerous cartel or potential terrorist will choose to cross -- and in fact, the majority of illegal crossings intentionally happen just before the shift changes.”

Shawn Moran, a spokesman for NBPC, said that while Customs and Border Protection’s efforts to eliminate AUO due to sequestration ultimately failed, calls to do away with the overtime policy have resurfaced in light of the reports of abuse. Moran said the “misdeeds of a few” should not dictate a new policy that would only serve to help criminals, but he realized that AUO is not a “perfect solution.”

The congressional proposals -- which will be sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in the House and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in the Senate -- would alter Border Patrol agents’ work schedules from eight-hour to 10-hour shifts. Under this plan, agents would receive base pay for 100 hours per pay period, and anything exceeding that would be rewarded through compensatory time off. 

While this formula is less generous than the current AUO package, Moran said his union endorses the measure because it is preferable to the alternative of Law Enforcement Availability Pay. LEAP, which many other federal law enforcement officers receive, provides compensation for a maximum of 100 hours per pay period, regardless of how many hours an employee works.

“Our fear was anything past the 10th hour [per day] and they are working for free,” Moran said, adding the Chaffetz-Tester bills would eliminate this concern. Tester originally attempted to attach a similar provision to the immigration reform bill as it was moving through the Senate, but it was not ultimately included.

Pressure to modify the overtime structure intensified in recent days after the OSC report found employees received $8.7 million in unearned compensation. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called for a hearing by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate the findings.

The border patrol council has said the legislative fixes to the “bloated” pay system would save taxpayers $130 million annually. 

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