- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Presidential adviser Tom Ridge defended yesterday the White House plan to waive civil-service status for some employees in the proposed Homeland Security Department.

In response to rapidly changing conditions, the secretary for the new department would need greater latitude in reassigning workers, said Mr. Ridge, homeland security director.

"The president will request for the department significant flexibility in hiring processes, compensation systems and practices, and performance management to recruit, retain and develop a motivated, high-performance and accountable work force," he said.

Nearly 160,000 employees would be merged from dozens of agencies into the proposed department. Many of them are protected civil-service workers whom it is nearly impossible to fire. The Bush administration wants the protections waived.

In separate hearings before the House Government Reform and Senate Governmental Affairs committees, Mr. Ridge delivered details of President Bush's plan to create the department.

The department would integrate threat analyses and vulnerability assessments; protect borders, ports and sensitive infrastructure; coordinate with local governments and prepare first responders.

Mr. Ridge said the goal is to do so without increasing the size of government and to establish the department by Jan. 1, 2003.

Asked why the FBI and CIA are not included in the structure, Mr. Ridge said the president wants the latter to continue to report to him and the former to remain an integral part of the country's law enforcement.

Mr. Bush wants the department tasked with integration and analysis but not the collection of information.

"As you can well imagine, there are some very unique privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with that process," Mr. Ridge said.

"It is well-defined with regard to the CIA's activity and well-defined with regard to the FBI activity, and for that reason, the president feels very strongly that the collection activity should remain in those institutions who are now guided by law, with oversight of the Congress, to collect material."

The administration's stance on waiving civil-service status for some employees in the department found support with Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, but was opposed by many Democrats and by Maryland Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella. The department should have significant flexibility in hiring and compensation practices, Mr. Thompson said.

"Homeland security is too important not to have a high-performance, accountable work force."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said there is considerable opposition in the chamber to the Bush administration's proposal to circumvent civil-service laws and that the measure will not go far. "We can't do that. We're not going to rewrite or totally exempt this or any federal agency from the laws pertaining to civil service," Mr. Daschle said.

Mrs. Morella questioned why the administration would pick a fight that would stall its plan in the Senate.

"Why insinuate that federal personnel cannot be trusted to willingly protect our homeland when they so willingly have? Sweeping aside 25 years of civil-service law will not enhance the performance of the new agency. It will only exacerbate it," Mrs. Morella said.

"There is no question" that thousands of federal employees tapped for the department are "our most capable in government, and we must view them as not only capable public servants, but as patriots as well," Mr. Ridge said.

"We are proud of what they are doing to secure our homeland and call upon them to continue their crucial work while the new department is created." However, he cautioned, "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures."

"We know the threats are real, we know the need is urgent, and we must succeed, working together, in this endeavor," Mr. Ridge said.

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