Washington D.C. – Staffing shortages, high turnover in agency leadership and constant attacks on employee rights and benefits all contribute to low morale among Customs and Border Protection employees at the ports of entry, NTEU National President Tony Reardon told Congress today.
The latest Partnership for Public Service’s 2019 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report ranked CBP 380th out of 420 component agencies, and for six consecutive years, the Department of Homeland Security ranked last among large agencies.
“The Best Places to Work results raise serious questions about the department’s ability to recruit and retain the topnotch personnel necessary to accomplish the critical missions that keep our country safe,” according to Reardon’s written testimony. “If the agency’s goal is to build a workforce that feels both valued and respected, these results show that the agency needs to make major changes in its treatment of employees.”
Reardon’s testimony was submitted to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Management and Accountability, which conducted a hearing today on DHS employee morale.
Although Congress approved fiscal year 2020 funding to hire 610 more CBP Officers and Agriculture Specialists, the agency still has a shortage of about 2,000 CBPOs at ports across the country. As a result, many officers work excessive overtime and double shifts, which disrupts their family life and contributes to low morale.
Reardon also testified about the rapid turnover and temporary appointments to the agency’s highest positions.
“Morale takes a hit when senior positions go unfilled,” Reardon wrote. “Such conditions can lead to poor productivity and a weakened chain of command.”
Reardon blamed some of the morale problems on the multiple threats to employee rights and benefits, including executive orders to limit bargaining rights; attempts to freeze pay and pensions; and plans to scale back performance awards.
There are steps Congress can take to begin restoring morale at CBP. Those include:
- Senate passage of the DHS MORALE Act (H.R. 1433) to improve frontline employee engagement and establish a statutory annual employee award program;
- Reinstate labor-management partnerships by passing the Federal Labor-Management Partnership Act (H.R. 1316);
- Preserve collective bargaining rights for federal employees; and
- Provide funding to hire more CBPOs, Agriculture Specialists and support staff.
“Ensuring that DHS can recruit and retain the best and brightest is essential for the safety and security of all Americans,” Reardon wrote.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.