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Small Perks Proposed for Beleaguered Feds

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Indiscriminate budget cuts caused by sequestration have forced Border Patrol agents to work fewer overtime hours.

For the inconvenience, a group of Democratic lawmakers want to give the agents a tax break.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas, has introduced the Border Security Tax Relief Act, which would allow Border Patrol employees to exempt pay from “administratively uncontrollable overtime” from their taxable incomes. AUO refers to unscheduled overtime taken by an employee who “requires substantial amounts of irregular” work and allows agents to, for example, continue chasing a suspect after their regular shift has ended.

“The men and women who provide security along our border have been hit particularly hard by sequestration,” Gallego said in a statement. “They should not have to pay for irresponsible budget decisions made by the previous Congress. It’s our responsibility to protect those who are on the front line protecting our nation.”

Originally, Border Patrol agents -- and all employees at Customs and Border Protection -- were told they’d have to take 14 furlough days and that overtime would be eliminated. Eventually, however, Congress shifted funds around in the Homeland Security Department’s budget and CBP was spared furloughs. The agents now only face “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,” CBP Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski said in June.

Gallego’s bill -- cosponsored by Reps. Marc Veasey and Filemon Vela, both Texan Democrats -- would allow Border Patrol agents to include the overtime as part of their taxable income if it is to their benefit when claiming the earned income tax credit.

Short-Term Disability

Most feds wouldn’t be eligible for the tax breaks. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., wants to help out many of those other employees as well. The non-voting congresswoman has introduced a bill that would allow federal workers to buy into short-term disability insurance. Employees would be responsible for 100 percent of the insurance premiums and would receive a partial salary replacement should a non-work related injury or illness bar them from working.

“I decided to investigate how we could provide short-term disability insurance to federal employees after learning that many of them already buy short-term disability insurance as individuals in the private market at high rates,” Norton said in a statement. “My bill does no more than put federal employees in the same position as their private sector counterparts, who have access to disability insurance through their employers at group rates.”

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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