USCIS threatens furloughs amid budget shortfall, TSA to offer more early retirements

Workforce changes may be coming soon to two subcomponents at the Department of Homeland Security.

Due to a “dramatic decrease in revenue” during the coronavirus pandemic, employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may face administrative furloughs in July — unless Congress steps in with emergency supplemental funding.

“Without congressional intervention, USCIS will need to administratively furlough a portion of our employees on approximately July 20,” an agency spokesman said. “We continue to work with Congress to provide the necessary funding to avert this unfortunate consequence.”

The agency estimated it needs $1.2 billion in emergency supplemental funding over a two-year period. The emergency budget request, which USCIS submitted to Congress in mid-May, also includes a proposed 10% surcharge to the agency’s application fees.

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USCIS notified its union on Tuesday of the possibility of furloughs.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents some 14,500 USCIS employees, is urging appropriators to provide the funding the agency said it needs.

“Furloughs of this magnitude will undoubtedly cripple the agency’s ability to carry out its mission,” Everett Kelley, AFGE national president, said in a May 27 letter to congressional appropriators. “With a loss of nearly 11,000 employees, work and visitor visa petitions, asylum and citizenship/naturalization applications, green cards and refugee applications will not be processed.”

Unlike most other agencies, USCIS is a fee-for-service agency, meaning it relies on the revenue it collects through work and visitor petitions and citizenship applications, for example, to keep the organization running.

It estimated a 61% drop in application and petition requests, in part, due to the pandemic, through the end of fiscal 2020. Though USCIS said it has limited salary increases and taken other steps to keep its expenses low, the agency said it needed to take “drastic action” to keep the organization afloat.

The USCIS budget proposal includes an additional $571 million for the rest of fiscal 2020, with an extra $650 million for the start of 2021, according to AFGE.

“This amount would compensate the agency solely for the amount already budgeted for operational needs and to continue to meet payroll for the nearly 11,000 federal employees currently under threat of furlough,” Kelley said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous negative impact on our nation’s economy, it is important that USCIS continue its capacity for administering legal immigration processes. Without this supplemental appropriation, this capacity will be profoundly undermined.”

TSA planning another round of early retirements

The Transportation Security Administration is planning to offer a round of early retirements to its employees. TSA will offer Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) options agency-wide to eligible employees.

“TSA will notify VERA-eligible employees in writing in the near future,” an agency spokesman said in an email to Federal News Network. “We expect that details will be shared with the workforce sometime next month.”

Early retirement options will not come with Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIP), the spokesman said.

TSA employees were informed of the upcoming early retirement options during a recent town hall meeting for the workforce.

The agency already had authority from the Office of Personnel Management to offer early retirements over a broad period of time, according to a TSA guide on VERA for its employees. The authority allows TSA to offer early retirement options through April 30, 2021.

To be eligible for an early retirement, federal employees must have at least 25 years of service at any age or must have 20 years of service at age 50 or older.

“VERA provides agencies the option to offer voluntary early retirement when restructuring or reducing the size of their organizations,” the TSA guide reads. “The use of VERA is an option for increasing voluntary attrition in agencies undergoing substantial organizational change (e.g., involuntary workforce reductions, reorganization, reshaping or delayering). Besides providing an incentive for employees to voluntarily retire to avoid potential IWR actions, the agency may also offer VERA to employees in safe positions that could then provide placement opportunities for employees occupying surplus positions.”