By Benjamin Goad - 02/21/13 04:20 PM EST
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are preparing to issue furlough notices of up to two weeks in mid-March, according to a federal employees union in talks with the agency.
Border protection officials will have to slash $754 million from their budget beginning March 1 if Congress does not act to prevent across-the-board “sequester” cuts from taking place, National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said.
The union represents roughly 150,000 federal employees across more than 30 agencies.
Kelley said the reductions could hurt public safety by weakening efforts to safeguard against terrorists and traffickers of drugs and guns and reducing cargo inspections. Travelers and the flow of commerce between countries could also face inefficiencies, she said.
“These cuts will have devastating impacts on CBP’s duel missions of securing our borders and facilitating trade and travel,” Kelley said.
The furloughs would be agency-wide, affesting border patrol agents and other employees. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has previously said CBP would have to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of over 5,000 Border Patrol agents, and over 2,750 CBP officers, Kelley noted.
In talks with the union, CBP officials said the furloughs remain a “last-resort” tool, and that the agency would strive to spread the furlough days out among the remaining pay periods of this fiscal year, Kelley said.
She urged lawmakers to reach an agreement that would stop the “draconian” cuts.
“Congress must act to stop the sequester and head off these damaging reductions,” Kelley said.
If the first tranche of sequestration is allowed to take effect, the CBP cuts would be only a tiny fraction of the $85 billion reductions. Hundreds of thousands of employees across the federal government would be furloughed, the White House has said. The Pentagon has announced plans to furlough 800,000 civilian employees.