Congress has approved a bill to simplify overtime pay practices at Customs and Border Protection. The goal of S. 1691, or the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, is to address and streamline Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO), the extra pay agents receive when their work demands they remain on the job beyond scheduled hours.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates implementation of the legislation could save around $100 million annually. Under AUO, CBO said most agents earn up to 25 percent of their base salary for time worked in excess of 80 hours in a pay period. In 2013, CBO said total overtime costs for Border Patrol agents was $627 million.
“This legislation, originally introduced by Sens. Tester and McCain, takes some commonsense steps to make some badly needed reforms to the overtime system at the Border Patrol, which is currently too complicated, too difficult to manage, and enables waste and abuse,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said, in a statement.
The bill means Border Patrol agents will have to choose between three work/pay options. The first option is to work 100 hours a pay period and receive a 25 percent salary boost. The second option is to work 90 hours a pay period and increase base salary by 12.5 percent. The third option for agents is to work 80 hours a pay period, with normal base pay. Additionally, employees who work more hours than their agreed-upon 80, 90 or 100 will be provided compensation in the form of time off. The compensatory time off would be limited to 240 hours a year, and cannot be converted to cash.
Under the legislation, at least 90 percent of agents must choose to work 100-hour schedules, or CBP can assign agents to do so.
Back in January, Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson directed agency leaders to suspend AUO for employees whose duties did not meet the requirements. About 900 DHS employees took an immediate pay cut of about 25 percent. At the time, Catherine Emerson, the DHS chief human capital officer, said roughly 25,000 to 28,000 DHS employees used AUO, and most of them work for CBP.
“This legislation is a win-win for the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security. It will replace the AUO system, increase the Border Patrol’s work hour capacity by over 2.5 million hours annually – the equivalent of an additional 1,500 agents securing our borders — and, at the same time, reduce overall costs,” Johnson said, in a statement, Thursday.
S. 1691 was introduced in the Senate in November 2013, and passed in that chamber on Sept. 18, 2014. It was passed in the House Dec. 10, 2014. The bill now heads to President Barack Obama for approval.