Border Patrol hit by wave of retiring

The two California sector chiefs join a growing roster who plan to retire this year or have already done so, according to the agency. Michael Nicley, the sector chief in Tucson, will step down in March; Lynne Underdown, who heads the agency's McAllen, Texas, sector, will leave this spring.
In Miami, chief patrol agent Paul Blocker has announced plans to leave this year. Grand Forks, N.D., sector chief Glen Schroeder retired earlier this year. In addition, Yuma sector chief Ron Colburn will leave his post to replace Kevin Stevens, deputy chief of the Border Patrol in Washington, D.C., when Stevens retires in June.

The departures stem from personal decisions, said Todd Fraser, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington, D.C.

“They have reached this peak in their careers, and they are going out on top,- Fraser said.

Mandatory retirement age in the Border Patrol is 57, Fraser said, but those over 50 with 20 years' service - or under 50 with 25 years' service - also are eligible to retire.

Schroeder had reached the mandatory age, and McClafferty will reach it next year. But the other departing chiefs, including San Diego's Griffen, 50, are retiring earlier than is required. Griffen was unavailable to comment, a spokesman said.

The departures have prompted union officials and some former agents to speculate about why so many sector leaders are leaving. One recently retired deputy sector chief complained about increasing micromanagement and bureaucracy since the agency was folded, along with other immigration and law enforcement agencies, into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

“It's very stressful being a supervisor out in the field now," said Edward Duda, 55, who retired almost a year ago as deputy chief patrol agent of the Buffalo, N.Y., sector. "The guys and ladies out there are not in a position where they could make the calls like they did before. There are so many layers now. You're not worried about quick reaction to a situation, you're worried about paperwork now."

Increasing centralization since the birth of Homeland Security has been a sore spot for union officials. They say the agency lost much of its autonomy, causing morale to sag. Among other things, they say, the Border Patrol has since ceded control of its air and marine division to Customs and Border Enforcement, which oversees the Border Patrol and customs and ports of entry.

"This whole DHS thing is not what we were told it was going to be," said Chris Bauder, president of Local 1613 of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents San Diego agents. "For some of them it could have been, 'That is it, I give up.' I don't know why we even have sector chiefs, they're not allowed to do anything."

Fraser said he could not speak for the chiefs' decisions but that "these are just personal decisions."

The departures are partly coincidental, said T.J. Bonner, national president of the union. Large numbers of baby boomers are expected to retire from the federal government in the coming decade, and this includes management.

Bonner acknowledged that so many retirements at once is unusual, and that morale is an issue. But he doesn't see it as a sole reason for the departures.

The Border Patrol has 20 sectors nationwide, including in Puerto Rico. Nine span the Southwest border.

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