T he start of a good workday usually requires hot java and a parking place. Both cost money.

At Dulles International Airport, Customs and Border Protection inspectors, who pay to park, think their agency should pick up the cost. They point out that another part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, provides parking passes to TSA employees who work at Dulles.

The concern about parking perks was brought to the attention of Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) last week at a meeting organized by National Treasury Employees Union Local 159. The inspectors told Wolf that parking costs were one of their major workplace concerns, and Wolf spearheaded a letter to bring the matter to the attention of the head of the border protection agency, Robert C. Bonner.

The meeting with Wolf came after the airport raised the annual parking fee Oct. 1 for inspectors by $30, to $325.

"Imposing substantial parking fees on law enforcement officers engaged in homeland security activities is counterproductive," said the letter, signed by Wolf and Reps. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) and Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

The letter said that the agency has 30 vacant jobs out of a staff of 200 at the airport and that reimbursing the inspectors for parking would cost $65,000 a year. "For such a small cost, CBP will add a huge benefit to attract new officers and improve morale among existing employees," it said.

The letter called parking fees "a huge dent in the salaries of these officers" and said the issue is causing morale problems because inspectors are aware that their TSA colleagues receive passes that cover most of their parking expenses at Dulles.

The TSA purchases annual parking permits worth about $275 each and distributes them to passenger and baggage screeners who work at Dulles, in part because employees assigned to the airport have fewer public transportation options for getting to work than screeners assigned to Reagan National Airport. TSA pay scales for screeners are also lower than those for CBP officers, officials noted.

Wolf, Davis and King pay close attention to issues involving Homeland Security employees, because of the districts they represent and the committees they chair. Wolf heads a House Appropriations subcommittee; Davis is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; and King is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

CBP officials did not return a telephone call seeking comment on the letter.

Union Competition

Speaking of CBP, the Federal Labor Relations Authority has ordered an election to reduce the number of union contracts covering about 23,000 employees in the bureau. Employees probably will get to vote on union affiliation in the spring.

By most accounts, the ruling means that the American Federation of Government Employees, which has long represented immigration employees, and the National Treasury Employees Union, which has long represented customs employees, will emerge as the leading contenders to win the votes of CBP employees who are eligible to vote.

A regional office of the labor authority, an independent agency that administers labor-management rules across government, called for the election after weighing a 2004 request from the Bush administration to revamp union representation at CBP because of the merger that created the Department of Homeland Security.

Under its order, the 10,000 employees of the Border Patrol will continue to be represented by the AFGE.

The order also denied special status sought by the National Association of Agriculture Employees -- a decision that probably will prompt an appeal, Michael Randall, the group's president, said. The group believes that its members should be defined as professionals and should not be forced into a larger union.

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E-mail: barrs@washpost.com