WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Customs and Border Protections agency started sending furlough notices out to its employees on Thursday, warning them they may be furloughed as many as 14 days due to budget cuts under the sequestration.
The notice, passed along to The Huffington Post by the National Treasury Employees Union, informs workers that full-time employees may lose "no more than 14 days or 112 hours" between April 21 and Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, while the furloughs for part-time employees would be pro-rated according to their work schedule. The furloughs would occur on intermittent rather than consecutive days.
"At this time, CBP does not reasonably anticipate the need for furlough beyond 14 work days," the notice states. "The Agency recognizes the difficult personal financial implications of any furlough, no matter how limited its length. The Agency will make every effort to keep you informed as additional information regarding the agency funding level becomes available."
A spokeswoman for CBP, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, said in an email that the agency is making "every effort to minimize the sequester's impact on public safety and national security," and that people caught illegally crossing the U.S. border in the Southwest will be "processed as usual."
"Because the length of the sequestration as well as funding levels through the end of the fiscal year are unknown at this time," she added, "it is difficult to project the impact of the reductions on individual employees or job occupations."
The CBP workforce includes customs and border agents who do a wide range of work at the country's airports, seaports and land border crossings. All of the agency's front-line employees as well as managers and supervisors will be eligible for fulroughs under sequestration.
The NTEU, a federal worker union that represents employees at CBP, said in a statement that the budget cuts will lead to longer wait times at borders and also take a "heavy toll" on the agency's trade responsibilities. According to the federal government, the agency facilitates roughly $2 trillion in trade each year and collects duties and fees on goods entering the U.S. NTEU said the agency includes 24,000 employees.
“There is no escaping the reality that sequestration is having serious effects on the traveling public and on vital commerce,” NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley said in the statement. “These impacts will only get worse the longer sequestration continues, especially as the busy summer travel season approaches.”
Roughly $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts went into effect last week, after Congress and the White House failed to agree on a suitable plan to replace sequestration. Unless lawmakers can retroactively address the situation, the budget cuts will mean unpaid furlough days for employees of the federal government. Workers at other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Aviation Administration, have also begun receiving notices.
Earlier this week, CBP Deputy Commissioner David V. Aguilar sent an email out saying that "no amount of planning can totally eliminate the impact of the substantial cuts this sequestration imposes." To meet the budget, Aguilar said the agency would impose a hiring freeze, cut back or eliminate overtime, limit employee travel and training, and carry out the furloughs.
"As difficult as this financial challenge may be, we must remain united and vigilant to ensure that our mission of protecting our Nation and our people against all threats remains our top priority," Aguilar said.
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This post has been updated with comment from CBP.