State rep: DPS’ decision to cut retire/rehire program targets ‘old’ troopers

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) graduated 134 new Texas Highway Patrol Troopers on Feb. 24, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) graduated 134 new Texas Highway Patrol Troopers on Feb. 24, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A state lawmaker says the Texas Department of Public Safety’s decision to cut the agency’s retire/rehire program as a cost-saving measure is a “guise” and targets “old” troopers.

In a letter addressed to DPS Director Steven McCraw on Jan. 4, State Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, wrote “The decision to cut these troopers was based on time served, not on the ability to perform job duties.” Nevárez goes on to say the agency is trying to balance its budget by putting it on the “backs of the most senior officers.”

In December, the Public Safety Commission approved DPS’ proposal to cut 117 DPS commissioned officers currently employed under the retire/rehire program by May 31, 2018. The agency says an additional 60 commissioned positions will be eliminated through attrition.

During this year’s legislative session, the agency was told to cut $50 million from its balance sheet.

DPS says the 117 employees are currently drawing a retirement annuity in addition to a monthly salary. Retirees will be assisted in the transition by the department’s Human Resources Bureau.

While McCraw says this is one of the best ways to reduce cost, Nevárez believes there are other ways to trim the department’s budget. While his letter didn’t list alternatives, he said in a phone interview that one alternative would be to “revisit the appropriations the [Legislature] did for border security and see if there’s something we can do from there.”

“Are those funds specifically earmarked for what I would call expenditures on the border – whether it’s more equipment, more men or paying more overtime, or bringing troopers where you have to house them for extended periods of time,” he said.

Nevárez said he would like to set up a meeting with McCraw to discuss the other options available and come to a resolution prior to any Sunset meetings. Nevárez’s office says McCraw responded that he got the letter but has not proposed a meeting date yet.

“The director has been in contact with Representative Nevárez and he looks forward to discussing this issue with him in person,” the DPS’ media and communications office said in an emailed statement.

Nevárez also asked for the DPS retire/rehire program cuts issue be added to the interim hearing at the Homeland Security and Public Safety hearing scheduled for Feb. 1 in Tyler.

“I know [Director McCraw] had to have struggled with this,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s easy for him to implement this type of deal without struggling. I know that.”

Troopers with Experience

Alan Trevino is a retired 20-year veteran from DPS and served as the leader of the protection detail for the state’s top leaders during his time.

“Those are skills that you acquire through a number of years of training,” he said.

Trevino said the hope of retaining valuable experience in all divisions of DPS was a key reason why the agency formed the retire/rehire program in the first place. With various areas under the agency, he says there’s a need for experience in general. “If you lose that experience, it’s a little hard to recover from.”

However, as a current business owner himself, he understands tough decisions have to be implemented when it comes to the budget.

“[McCraw] and his personnel made a decision and it was a business decision,” he said. “When you have losses, we need to look at our budget. We have to line item everything.”

Right now, the Texas State Troopers Association is investigating whether the cuts are legal.

“The section that deals with employees only provides that employees can be terminated for cause,” executive director Jack Crier said.

Crier says while the DPS manual allows for the agency to lay off commissioned officers as part of its power to manage personnel, “there’s nothing in there that treats them as a separate group where they could just be laid off in mass like that.”

Other ways DPS has tried to trim its budget this past year:

  • In June, DPS decided to cut business hours at 11 driver’s license offices across the state due to budget cuts. However, when customers complained and lawmakers got involved, the agency backpedaled on the cuts, stating, “The decision to resume extended hours came after discussion with state leaders and state legislators. The Driver License Division will explore other options and efficiencies in order to keep the extended-hour schedule in place.”
  • The following month, the agency told law enforcement agencies across the state its crime lab will start charging for various testing services. In a letter to local law enforcement agencies, said the agency’s goal is to “develop a model that will minimize the cost for forensic analysis while generating enough revenue to fund the continued operation of the laboratory system as directed.”

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