The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Border Patrol agents are owed due process

Border Patrol agents examine border fence construction in Lukeville, Ariz., on Jan. 7.
Border Patrol agents examine border fence construction in Lukeville, Ariz., on Jan. 7. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

The Nov. 1 editorial “No accountability for Border Patrol rogues” condemned the handling of Customs and Border Protection agents’ antisocial and hateful behavior. There obviously is a cultural problem within CBP, but to be disappointed that only two agents were dismissed instead of the two dozen recommended by the House Oversight Committee showed a lack of understanding of how managers and due process work, especially under a union contract. There is a myth that civil servants may never be fired. Without due process and progressive discipline, that myth becomes true, and those fired are re-employed on appeal.

As a former manager in one of Social Security’s payment centers, a.k.a. “claims processing factories,” I had to be very cognizant of how progressive discipline worked within the framework of a union contract. To change the culture of any group, you must first have training sessions so everyone understands what the rules are. With the first offense, the manager must remind the group that the rule exists. The second offense earns a private warning to the individual(s). The third offense requires a written reprimand. The fourth, a one-day suspension. The fifth, a three-day suspension. The sixth, a two-week suspension. The seventh offense leads to firing and is rarely overturned on appeal. A more serious offense may leapfrog one or more steps in the process, or an employee may see the light and change behavior before the final step. In either event, education, cultural change or justice is served, but it doesn’t happen overnight. 

Kathy Larson, Columbia