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Proposed bill could bring pay parity to federal law officers

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  • Proposed bill could bring pay parity to federal law officers

    Proposed bill could bring pay parity to federal law officers
    By Karen Rutzick
    [email protected]

    A bill making its way through Congress might be the best shot in a decade of getting pay equity for some federal law enforcement officers, American Federation of Government Employees officials said Tuesday.

    The union, which represents thousands of law enforcement officers across agencies, said disparity in retirement benefits between officers who are recognized by law as being law enforcement officials and those who are not, most notably Customs and Border Protection officers, is "very substantial."

    Under the law, employees deemed law enforcement officers can retire with just 20 years of service at age 50, as compared to standard federal employees who, at the earliest, must have 30 years of service and be 55 to retire.

    Law enforcement officers also receive a higher annuity upon retirement. A law enforcement officer retiring at age 50 with 20 years of service and a $65,000 salary would receive $22,000 more annually in retirement benefits than a standard federal employee retiring under the Federal Employee Retirement System, according to AFGE.

    But while the union has spent 10 years trying to get a bill passed to fix this inconsistency and has succeeded in getting multiple bills introduced with hundreds of co-sponsors - including one pending in Congress - none of those bills made it to a vote. New grumblings in Congress indicate that might change, AFGE officials said.

    In July 2004, the Office of Personnel Management issued a report to Congress that argued for greater consistency among federal law enforcement officers' pay and benefits.

    In response, the House Government Reform Committee is working on legislation with broad pay and classification reforms for law enforcement officers across the federal government, according to committee spokesman Drew Crockett. He said Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va. and Jon Porter, R-Nev., plan to introduce the bill later this year.

    The bill will clarify the issue of who is considered a law enforcement officer, Crockett said.

    On the Senate side, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia, is working on similar legislation.

    According to Marcie Ridgway, Voinovich's communications director, "The senator's bill will be looking for comprehensive federal law enforcement reform--classification, compensation and benefits." Ridgway said Voinovich believes the "overall revamping and updating of federal law enforcement classification pay and benefits [is] the next wave in winning the war on terror."

    AFGE officials are hoping that by folding their issue into the broader bill, it will have more traction than past efforts. The possible legislation presents a "unique opportunity to enact a long sought-after goal," said AFGE lobbyist Eric Shulman.

    Shulman said the issue finally has weight, in part, because of Voinovich's support. The creation of the Homeland Security Department, which includes the CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaus, means that Congress now "recognizes that the employees of DHS are on the front line against terrorism."

    Gage said he will meet with Porter, the chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, and Voinovich this week to discuss the proposal. Gage sent letters to both congressmen last week expressing "strong interest" in the possible legislation. In the letters, Gage said he understood that outlines of the legislation will be available to AFGE within the next couple of weeks.

    Officials from the National Treasury Employees Union, which also represents federal law enforcement officers, offered their strong support for classifying CBP officers and others as law enforcement officers. In a letter to Congress, NTEU President Colleen Kelley said, "CBP officers are the nation's first line of defense against terrorism and the smuggling of illegal drugs and contraband at our borders and in our ports," and she called for legal recognition.

    Both unions said they were stepping up grassroots efforts to rally support for the impending legislation.

    In August, the Congressional Budget Office released a study comparing the pay of federal and nonfederal law enforcement officers. It was compiled at the request of both the Senate and House committees that deal with federal workforce issues. CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said the study comes "as lawmakers consider changes in the federal personnel system for law enforcement officers."
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