Did you know that federal law enforcement officers are effectively being forced to donate MILLIONS of hours in free labor?

Written by Mathew Silverman, National President of Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association

Since taking office, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized the cancellation of federal student debt which has now reached a level of somewhere near $7.7 billion. The Administration and Congress have also invested hundreds of billions of new dollars in infrastructure through laws like the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS and Science Act.

While I certainly do not want to take away from the efforts to support students struggling to pay off their loans or increase domestic manufacturing to spur economic growth, all of this new funding does absolutely nothing for the more than 100,000 federal law enforcement officers working in every community across the U.S. and in countless locations overseas.

These brave men and women willingly put their lives on the line each day, carrying out some of the most complex investigations to keep us safe, protecting our nation’s highest government officials, and ensuring the safety and security of Americans here at home and abroad.

Despite the valuable service they provide, far too many of my members are left struggling day to day to make ends meet and provide for their families. And that is why I believe it is past time for this Administration and Congress to launch a similar committed effort to invest in the brave men and women who protect and serve our communities.
In fact, one of the major problems with both recruiting and retaining talent on the federal level is an outdated pay and personnel system that has not kept pace with the changing demands of the labor market.

When a major corporation needs to adapt, it innovates. This was on full display during the pandemic as companies embraced telework, altered benefits, and increased workplace flexibility.

That type of responsiveness and adaptability just doesn’t exist on the federal level. In federal law enforcement, the major pay and benefits structures were designed in the 1980s and 1990s before the law enforcement mission changed dramatically post-9/11. 
Since its inception, the federal government has been forced to apply a limited amount of revenue to an ever-increasing list of priorities, programs, and activities. One way legislators over the years have chosen to free up funding has been through statutory and regulatory limitations on pay and benefits.

For federal law enforcement officers under the General Schedule (GS), the pay cap for basic and locality pay combined is set at Level IV of the Executive Schedule. While the current pay system has remained in place for over two decades, these pay restrictions have proven to be problematic for federal law enforcement agencies charged with combating violent crime and mitigating threats to national security.
Over the past several years, the damage done by the pay cap has only gotten worse, as the ranks of federal law enforcement have diminished markedly and the requirement for officers to work more overtime hours has increased. It has also led to pay compression, where supervisory line agents make the same salary as those under their command.

Due to this arbitrary pay cap, thousands of federal law enforcement officers across the country are left uncompensated for work performed in service of the American people.  It’s wrong to force an officer to leave their family at home and risk their life while working for free.
On the retirement side, there is also an antiquated understanding on the part of the federal government of the duties performed and hazards faced by uniformed police officers that has prevented thousands of these officers from receiving “6(c)” law enforcement retirement status.

Despite an equal dedication to duty, these federal law enforcement officers are in disparate pension systems due to the various statutes enacted by Congress over the years and regulations of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In our view, a “law enforcement officer” in the federal service is a law enforcement officer no matter which agency they work for. 

Yet under federal law, the definition of law enforcement officers excludes thousands of federal police officers and others— an anachronistic concept no longer matches the realities of modern-day law enforcement. This is especially true as OPM has not updated the position description for a federal police officer since the Reagan Administration, despite the fact that police officers’ training, duties, and responsibilities have changed dramatically over the past 40 years and particularly since 9/11.
In its October 2023 report on recruitment and retention, OPM noted that 34 percent of all federal law enforcement officers—47,583 officers—will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years. At the same time, the federal government has only hired 42,949 officers in the past 5 fiscal years. It’s easy to see that math just doesn’t work—not for public safety, officer safety, or for officer wellness. 

But the clock is ticking. And it is past time for the federal government to come together in a meaningful way to address the recruitment and retention every agency is facing. It begins with the recognition that the current pay and retirement system is a disincentive, rather than an incentive, for men and women to seek and make a career in federal law enforcement
During this year’s Police Week, FLEOA representatives traveled to D.C. and met with Republicans and Democrats alike. We sought to inform and enlighten legislators about these and other complex challenges facing law enforcement.

As expected, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were shocked at the inequities with regard to law enforcement pay and retirement benefits, and the challenges agencies face with recruitment and retention. 

We are working to put that shock into action, seeking to advance critical measures at both the legislative and regulatory levels to address the pay cap and extend 6(c) retirement to all federal law enforcement officers.

Public safety should always be addressed as a non-partisan issue. We hope that Congress and the Biden Administration share that view and will take an active role in the weeks and months ahead to help us address these critical issues.
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The opinions reflected in this article are not necessarily the opinions of LET
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