- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

The chairman of the panel that drafted the Senate's homeland security bill said yesterday President Bush was insulting union employees by threatening to veto the measure.
The president has expressed concern the Senate bill would bar him from hiring, firing or disciplining personnel in the proposed new department.
"Nobody argues that civil service protections or union rights contributed to September 11th. In fact, quite the contrary. The firefighters and the police officers whose heroism we celebrated in New York were all union members. The president paid tribute to them," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"And, it's really not only irrelevant, but, in my opinion, an insult to public employees who are unionized to suggest that for some reason they can't carry out their job as customs inspectors or border patrol just because they're members of a union," the chairman added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, ranking Republican on the committee, said yesterday on "Face the Nation" he does not believe the Lieberman bill will be brought up for a Senate vote this week because of unresolved personnel issues. That means it probably will not be acted on before the Senate begins its monthlong recess Friday.
Mr. Thompson said the person chosen to head the Department of Homeland Security must have "management flexibility" to successfully merge 22 federal agencies with 170,000 workers into the new department responsible for preventing and responding to terrorist attacks.
Under the Senate bill, the president will have "less authority than he has today, and the new secretary who's appointed to run this new department will have less authority than other secretaries have today," Mr. Thompson said.
Mr. Lieberman described White House concerns about needing more control over employees as "phony."
"If the president determines that any particular job has changed its responsibilities and is now involved in national security, and union membership will affect that, [the president] can, under our bill, remove that individual's rights to be part of a union," said Mr. Lieberman. "So this is a phony issue, and it ought not to stop the president from signing this bill."
Mr. Lieberman said differences with the president over personnel issues in the bill remain, despite conversations the two had Friday. "In saying he might veto the homeland security bill because of the fact that we will not accept the dropping of civil-service protection and collective-bargaining rights of federal employees, President Bush is putting a totally unnecessary obstacle" in the path of attempts to close gaps that led to September 11, he said on CBS.
On Thursday, Mr. Lieberman's committee passed his version of the homeland security bill in a 12-5 vote. That same day, the Republican-controlled House passed, in a 295-132 vote, a separate version that would give the president greater managerial flexibility over the department that will consolidate parts or all of such agencies as the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.
Mr. Bush said of the Senate bill: "I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens a president's well-established authorities that exempt parts of government from labor-management relations statutes, when it serves our national interest."
The version passed by the House would give the secretary of homeland security new flexibility to hire, discipline, move and cross-train employees as the need arises. The version under consideration in the Senate preserves civil service and union policies, and also calls for the post of White House security adviser to be Senate-confirmed.
On CBS, Mr. Lieberman said he has "worked closely" with the White House on the bill.
In an interview on CNN's "Late Edition," John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said he met with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge Friday. The labor leader criticized the administration's "misguided policy" with regard to workers in the new department.
"These workers are as strong supporters of national security as anyone in this country. And their rights should be protected in terms of collective bargaining and in terms of laws that cover their employment," Mr. Sweeney said.

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