Federal Employees News Digest

Unions, orgs embrace law enforcement equity bill

Feds who work in the challenging field of law enforcement, and the organizations that represent them, are embracing legislation they hope—finally—might provide equity and inclusion for their colleagues across all agencies.

A bipartisan bill—the guts of which have been floated previously, numerous times—has been introduced in the House that would standardize full federal law enforcement officer status, and thereby improve pay and benefits packages, for appropriately situated employees across all agencies and departments who are now excluded from such status. The bill was reintroduced by Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.).

The Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act (H.R. 962) aims to widen the controlling definition of the term “law enforcement officer.” If passed, all feds who are authorized to carry a firearm and whose work involves investigating or apprehending suspects, or previously convicted persons, would fall under the federal “law enforcement officer” (LEO) classification, under Title 5 of the U.S. Code.

At present, federal law treats feds who work in law enforcement in sharply different ways, often for no apparent reason. Those who carry a gun and work under the Federal Protective Service, for example, fall under a lower pay scale and receive lesser retirement benefits than those under other, perhaps more familiar federal law enforcement, such as the FBI.

This is not a small issue. All told, the bill’s backers say that around 30,000 feds who carry out law enforcement duties do not qualify for full LEO status as pertains to pay and benefits.

Indeed, a wide range of less well-compensated law enforcement personnel would benefit from the equalizing effect of the bill, notes a press release from the American Federation of Government Employees—including police officers who work for the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and law enforcement who work for the U.S. Mint, among others across the civil service.

The bill would turn this imbalance around, and extend LEO benefits much more equitably. Under the bill, those who would fall under the widened federal law enforcement officer status would join those already receiving what are known as “6(c)” retirement benefits, providing the option to retire after 20 years of service at the age of 50, or after 25 years of service at any age. The newly included federal LEOs also would have their service to date counted toward these career timeline landmarks, for retirement purposes.

“Passage of this bipartisan legislation would close a loophole that has resulted in second-class status for many federal law enforcement officers, ensuring they are treated equally when it comes to setting their pay rates and qualifying for full retirement benefits,” AFGE president Everett Kelley said. “These inequities have resulted in higher turnover and lower employee morale at agencies that are unable to offer comparable pay and benefits. AFGE looks forward to working with Congress to ensure passage of this important legislation.”\

“During this devastating pandemic, our law enforcement officers have stood heroically on the frontlines keeping communities across America safe,” Rep. Pascrell (D-N.J.), sponsor and co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, said. “Because of an unfair distinction in our laws, tens of thousands of men and women in uniform do not have full access to federal retirement benefits.

Benefits fix: Solid reasons, solid backing

Federal law enforcement, like law enforcement at other levels of government, as is commonly known generally retire from the front line earlier than persons in other areas of work. The often-physical nature of the work is a major driver of this feature of a law enforcement career.

“The duties of law enforcement personnel place unique physical and psychological demands on individuals employed in those positions,” as a 2017 Congressional Research Service report noted. “Because physical and mental health decline with age, Congress deemed it necessary to maintain a youthful workforce to ensure the quality of law enforcement services.”“[T]he enhanced retirement benefits, which encourage entry at a young age, continuous service, and early retirement, are intended to help maintain a young and vigorous federal law enforcement workforce,” the CRS report continued.

Hence, better retirement benefits for law enforcement make sense. Yet inequities remain across agencies. Some may have some historical rationale. Others may not. But the bottom line now, advocates argue, is that in order to attract and retain the needed number and caliber of law enforcement recruits across all agencies, the proposed legislation must pass to end such unequal treatment.

“These inequities lead to high turnover and lower employee morale at agencies that are unable to offer comparable pay and benefits,” AFGE notes, in advocating for passage of the bill.

“This important legislation would close a loophole in existing law that has resulted in second-class status for many federal law enforcement officers, ensuring they are treated equally when it comes to setting their pay rates and qualifying for full retirement benefits,” the union said. “AFGE looks forward to working with Congress to ensure its passage.”

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association is also embracing the language in the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act.

“This bill would amend the definition of ‘law enforcement officer’ for retirement purposes,” the FLEOA union, on its website, states approvingly of the bill. “[It would] to extend 6(c)/LEO retirement to all law enforcement employees who currently do not receive it.”

FLEOA represents over 26,000 federal law enforcement officers at agencies ranging from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms to the Federal Protective Service.

Other, not specifically federal, employee unions and advocates of law enforcement have joined in praising renewed momentum behind such a bill. “The Law Enforcement Officers Equity Act is important because it ensures that all federal law enforcement officers are treated equally regarding retirement benefits,” said Bill Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. “It will also improve the ability of agencies to recruit and retain experienced officers.”

2021 Digital Almanac

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