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FLEOA Pushes Congress to Support Federal LE

FLEOA continues to push Congress to do more in future legislation to support the front line work of federal law enforcement during the COVID crisis

April 13, 2020

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House

U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Minority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515  

 

Dear Madame Speaker and Leader McCarthy,

I am writing to you today on behalf of the more than 28,000 members of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association to strongly endorse the letter you received on Friday, April 10, 2020 from Rep. Pascrell and 159 Members of Congress on the increasing needs of the public safety community during this public health crisis. As you begin consideration of a fourth legislative response measure, we also wanted to provide more detail on the most critical priorities of the federal law enforcement community.

Like our state and local public safety partners, the brave men and women of federal law enforcement have been on the frontlines of this fight since the coronavirus and COVID-19 first reached our shores. They will continue to do so as long as necessary to protect our nation and aid our fellow citizens. We know this commitment is one shared by you and your colleagues, and we are grateful for the support that Congress has provided thus far. But as you know, our nation is in somewhat uncharted waters as we respond to this public health emergency in "real time,” and without the benefit of a pause in the action. In many instances, the nation has altered its response over the course of the past month, as new information becomes available, new problem areas arise, or as previously unforeseen consequences of the pandemic become evident. This ever-changing landscape has necessitated the passage of three separate laws to confront the myriad challenges currently confronting our nation. Each of these measures has benefitted our response to the crisis in some way, but there is still more to be done. To that end, we urge Congress to act on the following priority issues as part of the fourth coronavirus response measure currently under development.

Enhanced access to and enhanced supplies of personal protective equipment

The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of this crisis is being addressed in a largely disjointed fashion. Despite the federal government’s efforts at procuring and distributing PPE to the states, once on the ground we are hearing that those state and local distribution networks are missing many high-risk individuals including first responders. Some of this is due to logistics, some is due to a difficulty in determining who needs additional PPE the most. On the federal level, most if not all federal agencies received additional funding to purchase PPE as part of the CARES Act. As you know, the issue with obtaining adequate PPE is not one of funding alone but currently of supply. They also must be able to move quickly to purchase items like N95 respirators, disinfectants, and gloves without having to go through the normal phases of agency purchasing requirements. Thus, we would urge you to allow federal agencies the authority to waive federal procurement rules as necessary to obtain PPE in the most expeditious manner possible.

Provide a full government wide waiver of the federal pay caps, fully extend hazard pay

While the crisis continues and the number exposures to the coronavirus continue to rise, the impact on staffing for first responder agencies is becoming more pronounced. As of April 7, more than 19 percent of the 36,000 officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) are unable to work with 6,900 in quarantine, and 282 New York City Fire Department (FDNY) employees have contracted COVID-19 with 950 individuals in quarantine. The Department of Labor has seen more than a thousand Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP) claims filed by federal employees due to coronavirus or COVID-19 exposures—a number that continues to grow each day.

On the federal level, the impact of this pandemic has magnified preexisting staffing issues across law enforcement agencies, and has required a decreasing number of "healthy” officers to work longer hours in order to fulfill the vital public safety missions of their respective agencies. A prime example is the U.S. Capitol Police, which has been forced to place a full 1/3 of its force on mandatory quarantine every two weeks, leaving those left behind to fill the staffing needs. These staffing shortages have necessitated some officers to work increased hours, forcing them to reach the annual pay cap which, by law, makes them unable to earn any additional overtime and other premium pay for the remainder of 2020. This places federal law enforcement officers in jeopardy of not being able to receive pay later this year. This is simply unacceptable.

It is for this reason and many others that it is vital for Congress to address these staffing issues by implementing two pay adjustments for the duration of the public health emergency. First, Congress must approve a full waiver of the federal government’s antiquated biweekly and annual pay cap under 5 U.S.C. 5547 so that all federal law enforcement agency heads can address their staffing needs while COVID-19 reduces the numbers of those able to be at work. In the CARES Act, Congress provided for three separate waivers of the pay cap for a handful of federal agencies. Now it must do the same for the remainder of federal law enforcement in the Phase 4 bill. Similarly, Congress also needs to fully authorize hazardous duty pay for those in the federal workforce charged with responding to this crisis and who are serving on the frontlines day in and day out. Again, partial coverage was provided in the CARES Act for some federal law enforcement officers to receive hazard pay, but the vast majority were left out. This too is unacceptable and must be addressed as expeditiously as possible.

Ensure full protections for frontline personnel who die or become disabled from COVID-19 

For those of us that were around, the current crisis harkens back to the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. In that case as well, hindsight proved to be much clearer than the "fog of response” and to this day we grapple with the lingering health effects of 9/11 in the first responder community. These health effects were unknown, then ignored, then debated, and finally recognized by Congress 10 years later with the passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.

With the history of our 9/11 responders’ struggles with health conditions connected to those heinous attacks as pretext, we hope that Congress will take the necessary steps now to avert or at least mitigate a similar fate for our first responders in the aftermath of this current pandemic. To do so requires us to address both the current and the anticipated long-term health impacts on first responders. The first step is for Congress to clarify that paid sick leave coverage for first responders is mandatory for every employing agency, and that since the CDC recommendations includes a two week quarantine period, 80 hours of additional paid sick should be available to anyone subject to self- quarantine due to a potential COVID-19 exposure. For long-term health impacts, Congress should mandate a clear presumption for both the OWCP and Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) programs that clearly stipulate that a first responder’s diagnosis of coronavirus or COVID-19 resulted from their employment so it establishes clear eligibility for death or disability benefits under both programs. Finally, we would strongly urge the Congress to include H.R. 1256/S. 531, the "First Responder Fair RETIRE Act.” This important legislation will ensure that federal law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other public safety employees that suffer a disability as a result of exposure to coronavirus or COVID-19 will retain their retirement status and benefits, even if the disability prevents them from continuing service in a federal public safety position.

Enhanced Support of US Probation Officers

Since the beginning of this public health emergency and notwithstanding the burdens it has placed on most of our states and localities, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is taking the unprecedented step of working to release additional inmates that may or may not be at risk for developing coronavirus or COVID-19. While this action may alleviate the burden on BOP, it has certainly increased the burden on U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, and has the potential to unnecessarily jeopardize the health and safety of our communities. Even before this current crisis began, federal probation and pretrial services officers were already grappling with staffing and resource issues related to the releases being conducted under the First Step Act. Adding more "compassionate release” cases to the caseloads of these men and women at this time will only further overburden these front line responders. 

To address this growing crisis for U.S. Probation, we ask Congress to identify and lay out clear guidance about how releases are to be handled which should include that they do not occur before U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services conducts a full risk assessment on the inmate. Similarly, BOP should also be directed to consult with local officials and U.S. Probation to ensure that the community these individuals will return to currently has the necessary infrastructure in place and capacity at the height of this crisis to support the needs of those released. Since they would be returning to a changed community— issues related to health care, substance abuse counseling, and even proper housing must be reviewed and addressed. Additionally, Congress should provide more funding to support U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Officers for increased staffing, logistics support for newly released inmates, improved electronic monitoring technology, improved access to vehicles so officers do not have to risk exposure by continuing to rely on mass transit or their personal vehicles, and extend Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) to all U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Officers so as they work overtime hours to support these newly released inmates, they can at least be compensated for it.

The hazards of the COVID-19 response and impact on our nation’s first responders will both continue to increase for the foreseeable future. As the nation adjusts to this new dynamic, the Congress should continue to adjust to ensure those on the front lines receive the support they need. It is out hope that you will join us in supporting these important initiatives and our nation’s federal law enforcement personnel, and continue to do what is necessary to beat this pandemic and keep all Americans safe.

 

Sincerely,


Larry Cosme
National President
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association