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Associations representing federal law enforcement agencies are fighting proposals on Capitol Hill that would include them in a third — or possibly fourth — year of pay freezes for civilian government employees.
The military is exempt from the flatlined paycheck policy currently in place through 2012 for the federal workforce, and this would continue to be the case in bills being pushed in both chambers to extend the freeze.
But officers from across the federal law enforcement community argue that they are vital to national security and risk their lives defending Americans — just like members of the armed forces. They say they should be subject to a carve-out, too.
“The most imminent threat to our country are threats here in this country,” said Jon Adler, national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “We are the ones who are stopping, preventing, capturing, investigating and pursuing those who want to do harm to our homeland.
“For [lawmakers] to overlook federal law enforcement officers, an essential component to homeland security, makes me think they are legislating with blindfolds and earmuffs,” he continued.
The House passed a bill last week to extend through 2013 the current federal workforce pay freeze, as well as the moratorium on cost-of-living adjustments to Congressional salaries set to expire at the end of the year.
The ball now falls in the Senate’s court.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he is seeking legislative vehicles to carry an extension of the pay freeze through next year. And to help offset the looming sequestration of $600 billion in the defense budget scheduled to begin next January, a group of Senators that includes John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced legislation to freeze government employees’ pay through 2014.
Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI Agents Association, said that he, like Adler, is lobbying lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to urge consistency in how they determine who is “essential” to national security.
“The president himself and various Members from both parties say the military protects the country and therefore it should be exempt from budgetary constraints,” Motyka said. “We say that you could take the same reasoning and apply it to those who work in federal law enforcement.”
Motyka and his colleagues have an ally in Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), co-chairman of the House Law Enforcement Caucus.
“I oppose a third year federal employee pay freeze entirely and find it especially appalling that we would … say that our federal law enforcement officers are not ‘critical’ to our national security,” Pascrell said in a statement to Roll Call. “Our federal law enforcement officers … [keep] our federal facilities, public parks and communities safer … through two years of austerity — at times putting themselves in deadly circumstance.”
Pascrell’s Republican counterpart in the caucus’s leadership, former sheriff Dave Reichert (Wash.), said he will “work to give voice to their concerns as Congress continues to work to rein in federal spending.”
Another House advocate is Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), a former U.S. attorney whose district holds the largest federal prison complex in the country. While he voted for the House’s pay freeze bill Wednesday, he said he did so with reluctance and continues to work for an agreement to protect federal law enforcement officers in future legislation.
“I’m continuing to speak with my colleagues and leadership,” Marino said, arguing that the pay freeze will hurt law enforcement agencies’ recruitment and retention efforts and force more officers into retirement. “It’s an ongoing, open discussion.”
He acknowledged, however, that getting support for a carve-out would be a challenge. In the Senate, lawmakers haven’t expressed enthusiasm for the idea.
“I’m not surprised,” Heller said with a laugh when asked by Roll Call what he thought about federal law enforcement officers’ plea to be spared another year of flatlined salaries.
“I think everybody performs a vital role,” McCain said. In regard to exempting one part of the federal workforce, he added, “I think that’s a slippery slope.”
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), who has been a leading voice against federal pay freezes, also dismissed the idea that any one agency should be exempt.
“A third-year pay freeze would be a hardship for everyone in our federal workforce. I’m not looking at exemptions because I don’t believe we should even have a freeze,” he said.