Lawmakers Propose Overhaul to Border Agent Pay Structure

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents patrols along the Rio Grande in 2009. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents patrols along the Rio Grande in 2009. Eric Gay/AP file photo

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday formally introduced a plan to overhaul the pay structure for U.S. Border Patrol agents, attempting to standardize compensation while saving taxpayers billions of dollars.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced the bill -- which would give Border Patrol agents three pay schedule options -- in the Senate, while Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, put it forward in the House. The agents’ overtime payments came under fire recently when the Office of Special Counsel reported widespread abuse, with employees claiming overtime they did not actually work. 

Border Patrol 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 would be rewarded through compensatory time off.

This plan would eliminate Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, a more generous package that allowed agents to double dip into overtime compensation when the extra hours were unplanned. The National Border Patrol Council, the border agents’ union, has defended AUO, saying, “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 has admitted the current pay structure is “bloated,” however, and endorsed the new proposal.

Shawn Moran, an NBPC spokesman, told Government Executive last week the union supports the bill 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-McCain-Tester bill 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.

“A common-sense pay schedule that provides stability for agents and their families is something I hear about every time I visit the border,” Tester said. “Establishing this new pay schedule will make our borders more secure and save taxpayer dollars.”

Tester and McCain estimated the bill would save $1 billion over 10 years. Tester, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, has scheduled a hearing in December to examine overtime abuse. 

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