U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

Review of the Staffing Analysis Report under the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2014

GAO-16-606R: Published: May 26, 2016. Publicly Released: May 26, 2016.

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Rebecca S. Gambler
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What GAO Found

The Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act of 2014 (BPAPRA) established a new overtime compensation system for Border Patrol agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under BPAPRA, Border Patrol agents individually elect and are subsequently assigned by the agency to one of three rates of pay commensurate with the amount of scheduled overtime the agents elect or are assigned to work (0, 1, or 2 hours of overtime per day, with a corresponding overtime pay supplement of 0, 12.5, or 25 percent, respectively). To inform and guide how CBP will implement this overtime pay reform, BPAPRA required that CBP conduct a comprehensive staffing analysis and submit a report to the Comptroller General not later than 1 year after the date of BPAPRA’s enactment (enacted December 18, 2014). GAO received the report from CBP on January 20, 2016.

GAO found that in developing its report, CBP relied on agent hours worked in prior years—and Border Patrol management’s judgment on required staffing for certain duty locations—to establish staffing baseline levels for the purposes of its report. CBP’s analysis was informed in part by the agency’s separate Manpower Requirements Determination (MRD) process, a 3 to 5 year implementation effort begun in fiscal year 2014 in response to congressional direction, which is intended to determine specific staffing requirements for each Border Patrol duty location in fiscal year 2017 and thereafter. At the time of the report’s issuance, Border Patrol had not yet identified such staffing requirements. As a result, it is too early for GAO to determine the extent to which the MRD process will result in identification of future staffing requirements for each Border Patrol duty location and position. Further, CBP has not to date performed sensitivity or data reliability analyses on the data inputs used to develop the report’s cost assumptions and calculations. Therefore, the sensitivity and reliability of the analysis’s data inputs and calculated outputs are unknown.

CBP’s report concluded that allowing all Border Patrol agents to elect the BPAPRA Level 1 or 2 rate of pay (1 or 2 hours of overtime per day with a corresponding 12.5 or 25 percent overtime pay supplement, respectively) will achieve overall cost savings and greater operational flexibility by assigning fewer personnel to 10 hour days as compared to hiring additional staff to work 8 hour days with no regularly scheduled overtime. This conclusion is based, in part, on CBP’s analysis of agent hours worked in prior years and qualitative narratives in the report explaining that assigning agents at certain non-field locations to the Basic rate of pay (no regularly scheduled overtime or corresponding pay supplement) would have a negative impact on Border Patrol management’s ability to attract and retain experienced and qualified field agents (earning Level 1 or 2 rate of pay) for assignments at these locations, thereby potentially decreasing the operational capability of the agency. 

Given the caveats identified in the report—such as the report’s reliance on agent hours worked in prior years rather than developing specific staffing requirements for each Border Patrol duty location--updating the report’s data inputs based on future analyses, to include assessing data sensitivity and reliability, will be important for determining whether the conclusions reached in the report remain valid to support future determinations of BPAPRA rates of pay for agents across all duty locations.  According to CBP officials, their analysis of agent hours worked in prior fiscal years will be updated in future years as part of the MRD process, specifically in relation to the MRD’s identification of future staffing requirements.

Why GAO Did This Study

BPAPRA contains a provision for GAO to examine the methodology used by CBP to perform the staffing analysis and to provide an assessment of CBP’s findings. This report provides GAO’s assessment of CBP’s report. To examine CBP’s report GAO reviewed BPAPRA, including provisions of the statute specific to the Border Patrol staffing analysis, and examined the report to identify key components, including its findings and methodology. GAO reviewed additional documentation provided by CBP, including documentation on the cost assumptions used in the report’s cost calculations, and reviewed past GAO work, including reports on human capital strategic planning. GAO also reviewed the cost calculations included in the report to assess the accuracy of the calculations performed and interviewed CBP officials regarding the sources of the data used to develop the cost assumptions underlying the reports cost calculations. We provided a draft of this product to DHS for comment. DHS provided written comments, which are reproduced in full in enclosure II, and technical comments, which were incorporated as appropriate. In its written comments, among other things, DHS noted that the implementation of BPAPRA has provided Border Patrol agents more stable and predictable work schedules and pay, as well as increased CBP’s mission capability. DHS also noted that achieving cost savings was a key driver in CBP’s report and that achieving such savings will continue to be a key driver of CBP’s future staffing decisions.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-6912 or GamblerR@gao.gov.

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