Customs and Border Protection avoids sequester furloughs

Congress has approved a plan to avoid furloughs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees in fiscal 2013, according to a statement Wednesday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

CBP also will continue to pay for “administratively uncontrollable overtime,” which applies to Border Patrol agents when they work unscheduled extra hours to fulfill their duties, according to the announcement.

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The agency had initially planned to furlough its employees for up to 14 days and eliminate unscheduled overtime for Border Patrol agents to trim costs under the government-wide spending cuts known as the sequester.

To avoid that fate, Homeland Security asked its House and Senate appropriators to allow a transfer of $11.3 million to CBP’s salaries and expenses account from other spending categories.

“The approval of this reprogramming request mitigates the challenges our workforce would have faced with furloughs and demonstrates the support of the entire department of CBP’s mission,” Napolitano said.

The labor group that represents customs agents applauded Congress for approving the plan. “No employee should face the loss of nearly three weeks’ pay — as would have been the case for CBP employees,” said National Treasury Employees Union president Colleen M. Kelley. “CBP already suffers from a serious understaffing problem at our nation’s borders.”

The plan deals with only fiscal 2013, meaning furloughs are possible in future years. The sequester is scheduled to continue until 2021 unless Congress and the president take action to end it.

CBP will aim to meet its sequester targets under the reprogramming plan by continuing with a hiring freeze, maintaining limited reductions in overtime, reducing travel and conferences, and forgoing certain types of bonuses, Napolitano said.

Homeland Security managed to transfer $11.3 million toward CBP salaries and expenses in part by shifting about $7 million from its infrastructure, technology and border-security fencing appropriations for fiscal 2011 and 2012. The department also moved about $4 million from its Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

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