June 22, 2001 (WASHINGTON) – A large group of federal employees do everything that police officers do on the job – they carry guns, make arrests and investigate crimes.
But the men and women who guard veterans hospitals, patrol military bases and work for many other federal agencies do not get the pay and benefits that officers who work for local and state police departments receive. Their union, the American Federation of Government Employees, hopes to change that situation.
“If they die in the line of duty, they get to be put up on the law enforcement memorial,” said Joe Lopes, a staffer with the AFGE in Washington. “They should be considered law enforcment officers while they are alive.” Wayne Marion, vice president of the AFGE local at the VA hospital in Perry’s Point, Md., is chairman of the union’s Federal Police Steering Committee. He said that after 18 years on the job he is making about $31,000 a year. If he went down the road to the county sheriff’s department, he would get an immediate raise of $3,000 a year. In many police departments, Marion would also be within a couple of years of retirement if he chose. Instead, he gets the same retirement benefits as federal clerks at the same civil service rating.
The AFGE hopes that Congress will approve a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Cal. HR1841 would classify every federal employee who performs police duties and is authorized to carry a weapon as a law enforcement officer with appropriate pay and the chance to retire after 20 years.
Marion said that the system is now a patchwork. FBI and Secret Service agents and some others do have law enforcement status. So do most employees in federal prisons, even those who cook and clean. Some other agencies, like the National Parks Service, have opted in so that their officers are considered police, but many agencies do not to keep costs down.
He believes that this is shortsighted. While the initial cost of paying higher salaries may run to millions or billions of dollars, the government will also save money by reducing turnover and retaining trained police officers. Now, many people hired by the federal government move to jobs with state and local agencies as soon as they are trained.
Lopes said the union is conducting a survey to find out how many federal employees no perform police duties without the status. He believes that 10,000 to 15,000 people would be affected if HR1841 passes. The union hopes to get the bill passed before the end of the 107th Congress next year. If HR1841 is not approved, it would have to be reintroduced and begin the process again.