The culturally accepted practice of clocking in for overtime to pad their paychecks by employees of the Department of Homeland Security is ending, according to the Office of Personnel Management, which published new rules Wednesday on how border patrol agents can earn overtime.
The crackdown comes after a report issued in 2013 by the federal Office of Special Counsel found that some DHS employees were using Administratively Uncontrollable Overtime, known as AUO, to boost their paychecks in what was known as “the candy bowl.” The practice can add up to 25 percent to a paycheck and has become so routine over the last generation that it was offered as a perk when government managers try to recruit new employees, according to these accounts.
The 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act will start on Jan. 1, 2016, doing away with AUO.
The overtime was intended to be for unanticipated, urgent work, such as capturing criminals or fighting terrorism. But the report found that employees with desk jobs who are not doing work on the border were abusing the overtime and claiming it for their commuting time, for exercising at the gym or for time lounging at their desks where they watched movies or scrolled Facebook.
The report described the AUO abuse as a “profound and entrenched problem” at DHS and a “gross waste of government funds.”The Congressional Budget Office says that the reform act will save $100 million a year.
According to reporting in GovExec, the law asks Border Patrol agents to choose to work a selection of levels over a two-week pay period. There’s level 1, working 100 hours, who will be paid an overtime “supplement” that equals 25 percent of their normal base pay. They would not receive any money for overtime hours beyond the 10-hour days.
Employees at level 2, working 90 hours, would earn 12.5 percent of their basic pay for the extra one hour of overtime per day. Those who work level 3, or 80 hours, will earn normal base pay as determined by their General Schedule rank, and no overtime.
Those agents who work longer to remain in pursuit of criminals when their shift ends will be given comp time. Border agents say that the cuts are hurting morale.
But the union that represents most of the 21,000 border agents has said the overtime system needed reform and was “bloated. They pushed for a reform act that would still pay them overtime but not as a given. They endorsed the bill as “reasonable,” according to Gov Exec.
‘‘No Border Patrol agent is happy about the prospect of losing $6,400 per year,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, at a Senate hearing in June 2014. “We are sacrificing a lot, but in the end, it will prove to be a boon for border security, the American public, the agency and the agents whom I represent.”
A statement from the union on Wednesday said, “Make no mistake, we will continue to hold OPM’s and DHS’s feet to the fire to protect our members’ interests and financial security.”