Before I begin this dissertation, please allow me to digress with an explanation of supervisory titles in the US Custom Service. A first level supervisor is equivalent to a captain in the military, equal in pay and responsibilities, and wears the twin silver bars of a captain in the military. A second level supervisor is equivalent to a major in the military and wears gold oak leaves on the uniform. Chief inspectors and port directors are usually the equivalent of a lieutenant colonel in the military and wear silver maple leaves when in uniform. Many Customs port directors have higher grades and have the option of wearing uniforms or civilian garb—most opt for civilian dress.
Program officers at Headquarters also have the pay and similar responsibilities of lieutenant colonels in the military, and unless involved in some field action requiring the uniform, normally wear civilian garb. The pay and responsibilities of program managers at headquarters are also similar to the duties and responsibilities of a full colonel in the military. The comparisons to military personnel continue up to the pay and responsibilities equal to the grade of a four-star general.
During my 26-year career in federal law enforcement I had the misfortune—oops, I meant the good fortune—of serving US Customs for several years at the Brownsville, Texas port of entry located at the tip of Texas, opposite the city of Matamoros, Mexico. I began my career at the port of Progreso and I was promoted to a first level supervisory position at the port of Roma. After two and one-half years there I was again promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas some 125 miles down river from Roma. Click here for a posting on Progreso.
My position at Brownsville was that of a second level supervisor, one of two such officers responsible for supervising a staff of three administrative persons, six first level supervisors and a staff of sixty senior, journeyman and trainee inspectors. I performed my duties under the watchful eyes of the chief inspector and a racially and professionally biased port director, and I was the favorite target for any person that lodged a complaint against management, regardless of the source. Those activities were dictated and urged on by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). Near the end of my tour at Brownsville, the Chief Inspector left my side and joined in the target practice.
A friendly journeyman told me that NTEU had directed the local Union Steward to have every grievance addressed to me, regardless of the supervisor involved—I was one of nine supervisors, yet all complaints came to me to be investigated and the results forwarded to upper levels including national headquarters, whether resolved or unresolved. The same friendly inspector said that every meeting of the Union members, whether locally or at District or Regional Headquarters, began with a request for input on me and on my actions.
Just as an aside, the Port Director and the Chief Inspector have since been arbitrarily transferred to that shining Port of Entry in the sky—a headquarters directed assignment, so to speak—and one may be reasonably certain that a significant number of the journeyman inspectors have joined them—some were quite advanced in age, and I left Brownsville 27 years ago. I can truthfully say that at this stage of life I hold no rancor for any of them—well, okay, perhaps a trace of rancor for the Port Director!
In spite of the onslaught of arrows (employee complaints) fired at me, none struck a vital organ. To paraphrase William Faulkner in his acceptance speech in 1950 for the Nobel Prize in literature, I did not merely endure—I prevailed. My actions and my decisions were upheld by mid-level and top-level management in every instance. The grievances filed numbered in the hundreds—none was resolved in favor of the complainant, neither by me nor by someone in the upper echelons. Most of the grievances stemmed from my efforts to reduce inspector overtime in accordance with instructions from upper level management given to me prior to assuming my duties there. Misuse of overtime was rife at that location, and my success was in inverse proportion to the number of grievances—as overtime declined, grievances increased.
The pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, so I stalwartly bided my time. I successfully withstood the onslaught for three and one-half years, from April of 1980 to October of 1983, and once again was promoted and transferred to US Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC as a program officer. Halfway through my three year tour in Washington I was assigned the title and assumed the duties of Program Manager for Customs’ National Canine Enforcement Program, and therein lies some tales to be told. Click here for an example of my duties, a tour of canine operations in California. This is just a teaser with more stories to follow, so stay tuned.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!