On Monday, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) postponed that threat. There’s a sigh of relief coming from Border Patrol agents, but no cheers.
“For now, people can breathe easy . . . but we don’t know for how long,” said Thane Gallagher, a Border Patrol agent based in San Diego, speaking as a union member. “It’s good news for now.”
There has been other good news, of a limited sort, on the furlough front. It’s all in the context, however, of continued serious budget cuts. The CBP decision follows Thursday’s Defense Department announcement that its employees would have 14 furlough days that would begin in June, instead of 22 as originally planned. That same day, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told staffers he is “postponing until mid-April any decision about the need to institute furloughs for DOJ employees.”
“The situation with the budget has been very fluid,” Holder said in his staff memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post.
Days earlier, Justice had announced it was canceling furloughs for federal prison staffers.
CBP, like Defense and Justice, changed course after President Obama signed an appropriations law last week that allows limited flexibility in implementing the spending cuts.
“In light of the Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations bill and sequestration impacts, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is re-evaluating previously planned furloughs and de-authorization of Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime (AUO) and will postpone implementation of both at this time,” CBP said in a statement. “Although the budget reductions imposed by sequestration are significant, the bill’s provisions allow CBP to mitigate to some degree the impacts of the reduced budget on operations and on CBP’s workforce. CBP continues to assess the exact impact the legislation will have on our operations and our workforce.”
A memo from Thomas S. Winkowski, CBP’s deputy commissioner, to employees said much the same thing. Their reaction was muted.
Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, said the union “is cautiously optimistic about CBP’s decision to postpone furloughs and the de-authorization of AUO. We do have a well-founded fear that CBP will not do the right thing, though, and ultimately make a decision that will leave the border in an insecure state.”
While pleased with this action, union Local 1613 cautioned its members to take nothing for granted.
“This is not over,” says a notice on the Local’s Web site. “We are like death row inmates who got a temporary stay of execution. It is a delay not a guarantee! We need to keep up the fight and keep the public and media involved and interested.”