Several hundred Customs and Border Protection officers who speak foreign languages will get a chance to claim back pay under a settlement reached between the Department of Homeland Security and the National Treasury Employees Union, the union announced yesterday.

Under the Foreign Language Award Program, CBP officers who speak and use foreign languages on the job receive bonuses ranging from 3 to 5 percent of their base salary.

Two years ago, CBP stopped testing officers for proficiency in foreign languages, prompting the union to file a grievance against the agency in October 2004. CPB resumed testing for language skills in July.

Union officials said the agency settled the grievance just before the complaint was headed for arbitration. The bonus program, authorized by Congress in the early 1990s, has been carried out through a 1997 memorandum of understanding between the union, on behalf of its bargaining unit, and the agency.

According to the settlement agreement, 835 officers who applied but were not tested for foreign language proficiency will be scheduled for priority testing in fiscal 2006. Those officers hired between Oct. 3 and July 24, 2004, will be given an opportunity to apply for the test, the agreement said.

The settlement provides for retroactive bonuses based on the pay grade of the officers in September 2004 and September 2005.

Asked about the settlement, a CBP spokeswoman said the agency recognizes the value of foreign language skills and "remains dedicated" to the bonus program. The spokeswoman was unable to contact officials who could say why the program had stopped in 2003.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, several members of Congress have urged the government, especially intelligence agencies, to step up efforts to hire and retain employees who speak foreign languages.

In a statement announcing the settlement, Colleen M. Kelley, president of the union, said, "For an administration that is pushing the idea of pay-for-performance, it amazed me that the leadership of DHS made a conscious decision not to reward these employees who possess a much-needed skill and are performing above and beyond their job descriptions."

Pay Bill Signed

In case you missed the news: President Bush has signed the fiscal 2006 spending bill that includes an average 3.1 percent pay raise for civil service employees.

Before new pay tables can be published, Bush must issue an executive order breaking the 2006 raise into two parts -- an across-the-board increase and a locality adjustment. Washington-Baltimore area employees will receive a 3.44 percent raise if the White House follows the recommendation of an advisory group, the Federal Salary Council.

The pay raise will take effect early next month. Federal retirees will receive a cost-of-living adjustment of either 3.1 percent or 4.1 percent, depending on their retirement system.

Retirements

Bruce M. Carnes, who served in several career and appointed positions during a nearly 30-year federal career, retired Wednesday from the Energy Department, where he had recently served as the chief financial officer. Carnes also held senior positions at Defense Financing and Accounting Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the departments of Education and Homeland Security.

Joseph T. Enright, senior international trade specialist at the Commerce Department's Advocacy Center, retires today after 38 years of federal service, including eight years at the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission.

Mitchell J. Hartson, director of operations for the Army Worldwide Food Service Program at Fort Lee, Va., will retire Jan. 3 after more than 40 years of government service.

Talk Shows

Lou Riegel, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division, will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Jonathan Perlin, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"My Agency -- Is It 'Happy Holidays' or 'Merry Christmas'?" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com