Some 21,000 Border Patrol agents would get a new three-tier pay system under bipartisan legislation introduced Wednesday.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and John McCain, R-Ariz., would let agents choose each year among three options: working 100 hours per two-week pay period, including 20 hours of overtime; 90 hours per pay period with 10 hours overtime; or a straight 80 hours with no overtime. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has introduced the same bill in the House.
If signed into law, the measure would replace a status quo where agents have traditionally relied on 10 hours per week of administratively uncontrollable overtime (AUO), to supplement their base pay by about 25 percent.
That system, however, is jeopardized by the continuing budget squeeze. After threatening to cancel AUO outright earlier this year because of sequester-related budget cuts, Customs and Border Protection management has scaled back its use to about 20 percent of base pay, said Shawn Moran, a vice president with the National Border Patrol Council, a union that’s part of the American Federation of Government Employees and strongly supports the bill.
The measure would not affect the use of administratively uncontrollable overtime elsewhere in the Department of Homeland Security. While AUO is supposed to be used mainly by employees who work irregular and unpredictable hours, some staff at Customs and Border Protection’s Washington, D.C., headquarters were routinely tacking on two hours of overtime each day, according to the findings of an internal investigation recently made public.
In response, acting DHS Secretary Rand Beers has launched a departmentwide review of AUO use, but officials have not said when the inquiry will be complete or whether the findings will be made public.
Tester, who chairs a Senate subcommittee on the federal workforce, plans to examine allegations of overtime abuse at a hearing next month, a spokeswoman said. In a Nov. 6 letter, he and the subcommittee’s top Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, asked Beers to outline the discipline taken against employees found to have abused AUO policies and what steps the department has taken to reduce future misuse. As of Wednesday, Beers had not yet replied, according to Tester’s office.