- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Last Tuesday, President Bush sent Congress a detailed report, nine months in the making, which explained the need to move nearly 170,000 workers in nearly 100 federal agencies that deal with one or another part of domestic defense into DHS.

"The current structure of our government is a patchwork, to put it best, of overlapping responsibilities, and it really does hinder our ability to protect the homeland," Mr. Bush said. He urged Congress to enact a plan that would lay out "clear lines of authority and clear responsibilities" for federal employees and the American public in preventing and, when necessary, responding to catastrophic terrorist attacks in the future. The administration also requested authority to transfer up to 5 percent of appropriated funds between agencies involved in the reorganization if the White House gives 15 days notice to appropriators.

On Capitol Hill, many members reacted predictably to the prospect of ceding part of their power. The day after the Bush administration released its report, Rep. David Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, testified in opposition to the proposal before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Mr. Obey invoked the Magna Carta and precedents set during the War of 1812 in warning the administration to tread lightly in reallocating appropriated funds.

Two days later, the select committee, chaired by Rep. Dick Armey, approved by a 5-4 party-line vote an overall plan very similar to Mr. Bush's original proposal. It includes a compromise allowing the department to reprogram up to 2 percent of appropriated funds for up to two years. The committee proposal, which will be debated in the House today, includes provisions that would create a new Department of Homeland Security with an annual budget of close to $40 billion, transfer the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) enforcement duties to the new department, and transfer to the new department, over Democratic lawmakers' vociferous objections, existing presidential powers to limit collective bargaining privileges for employees with national security-related responsibilities.

The legislation approved by the select committee would loosen existing civil service regulations to make it possible for DHS management to fire employees for poor performance. This is based on the theory that it should be easier to fire a federal employee who does a poor job protecting air security or guarding the coastline than a clerk in the Agriculture Department. Also, the administrator would be granted added flexibility to reward successful employees with merit pay raises beyond those allowed under current federal pay regulations.

In addition, to minimize the likelihood that specific information on the vulnerabilities of individual industrial plants and dams ends up on the Internet, the legislation limits the ability to use the Freedom of Information Act to force private firms to make this information public. The select committee rightly rejected administration proposals to in essence create a federal identification card by standardizing drivers licenses and to institute a program called TIPS, a Justice Department proposal to enlist federal workers and other citizens as a sort of national spy corps to ferret out "suspicious" activity.

Today, on the floor of the House, the Republican leadership should avoid inducing a sense of Democratic partisan resentment by permitting sufficient amending opportunities for the Democrats. Historic legislation is best passed by large majorities. The Senate in the next several days will doubtlessly further modify the President's proposal. It is more important to move forward more or less united, than gain by harsh procedures the full Presidential package. No party or branch of government would appear to possess perfect wisdom on this difficult matter.

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