Federal Diary: Officers policing certain agencies get lesser benefits

Kimberly Munley was shot three times on the line of duty at Fort Hood, Tex. Her benefits are outmatched by other officers'.
Kimberly Munley was shot three times on the line of duty at Fort Hood, Tex. Her benefits are outmatched by other officers'. (Jahi Chikwendiu/the Washington Post)
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SOURCE: GAO report | The Washington Post - February 25, 2010
By Joe Davidson
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd didn't hesitate when they got a call about the Fort Hood shooter.

As cops on patrol, it was their duty to rush toward the danger. Munley was shot in three places, now walks with a cane and may not be able to work as a patrol officer again. They have been praised widely for their actions and were guests of President Obama at his State of the Union address last month.

But despite the accolades, the service they provide and the life-threatening injuries they risk, Todd and Munley aren't considered cops in the fullest sense.

They wear a badge and carry a gun and you'd better stop when they tell you to, but like thousands of others who protect federal facilities and the people who use them, Todd and Munley don't get the enhanced pay and retirement benefits that other federal officers enjoy.

Only if they die doing their job do they get the greater recognition they deserve.

Police officers who are federal employees working in several agencies, including the Defense Department, log longer hours for less pay than other federal officers, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

They are not classified as federal law enforcement officers, said Gerald Hutt, president of AFGE's law enforcement committee. With that classification, they could retire with 20 years of service, instead of 25. He couldn't say how much more the average law enforcement officer makes nationally, but Munley said it's a difference of $3,000 to $8,000 at Fort Hood, Tex.

The Defense Department said that it "uses Office of Personnel Management classification guidance to determine the title, series, and grades of Police Officers," and that "being classified as a police officer, does not guarantee that an individual will meet the special retirement coverage criteria established for law enforcement officers."

Guidance like that can result in the Pentagon and other agencies missing out on some good people.

Hutt is an example. In addition to working with AFGE, in his day job he's an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. When he wanted to move to another city, he said he didn't even consider Defense Department police agencies because of their policy. And a 2009 Government Accountability Office report says attrition rates at the Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury departments for "law enforcement personnel receiving enhanced retirement benefits" averaged 3.2 percent for fiscal years 2004 through 2008, compared with 4.7 percent for "law enforcement-related personnel not receiving enhanced retirement benefits."

Munley was in the District Wednesday for AFGE's legislative conference. A small woman with a big spirit, she was shot in one hand, her left thigh and left knee. Both shots to her left leg passed through and also wounded her right leg. She was near death. One knee is bent and she faces more surgery. Previous operations already left her looking as if a professional knife artist carved up her legs, she said.

But Munley, married to a Fort Hood soldier, and the mother of two girls, said she was "too stubborn to give in . . . positive thinking is why I'm still alive."

Ironically, had she died from her wounds, she would have been memorialized along with other law enforcement officers. She appeared at an AFGE news conference where union leaders urged Congress to pass proposed legislation that would give all federal police officers law enforcement officer status.

When Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to do that, he called it "a tragic irony" that "the only time these officers are classified as law enforcement officers is when they are killed in the line of duty. Then their names are inscribed on the wall of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial right here in Washington."

Isn't that nice? But what about something for the living?

Filner said his Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act would "provide well-deserved pay and retirement benefits" to a wider range of officers. "The costs of these benefits," he added, "would likely be offset by savings in training costs and increased revenue collection. The bill also will reduce turnover, increase yield, decrease recruitment and development costs and enhance the retention of a well-trained and experienced workforce."

If you're a federal cop, you shouldn't have to die in action for Uncle Sam to give you the recognition you deserve.

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