- The Washington Times - Friday, October 25, 2002

"They are reconstituted. They are coming after us. They intend to strike the homeland again." So said Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet testifying before Congress.

"Our union immediately notified the base commander that we would develop whatever flexible work plan was necessary to keep our aircraft flying," said Dave Owens, Liquid Fuels Maintenance Mechanic, Elmendorf Air Force Base, in response to the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Tenet uttered his words to Congress this month, referring to al Qaeda terrorists and the continuing threat to the United States homeland. Mr. Owens wrote his words in a letter to Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, underscoring that when it comes to homeland security, his union stands ready to inject itself after a crisis, formulate a plan for represented workers, show the plan to the workers, amend the plan if necessary, vote to send the plan to workers for ratification, and then present the plan to the administration for acceptance, rejection, or possibly further negotiations.

The two viewpoints illustrate why the homeland security debate is stalled in the United States Senate. Like Mr. Tenet, I believe the lack of a coordinated response to terrorism puts our nation in danger. We know there are terrorists who want nothing more than to destroy the United States. Our current homeland security scenario is a mix of a lot of good people brought from a number of agencies with varying missions.

President Bush has asked Congress to create a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission secure the homeland of America, and protect the American people.

It has been more than three months since the United States House of Representatives did its job and agreed to create a Department of Homeland Security. The House bill offers flexibility that the Bush administration needs when dealing with the 50,000 union-represented workers, who will be part of the 170,000 workers that make up the proposed department.

The Senate, however, has taken the homeland security debate and made it about labor concerns. Several senators want to strip the president of the authority to exempt personnel from unions and waive civil service protections when national security requires. These are powers Mr. Bush already holds. These are powers that presidents going back to President Carter have held for only the gravest of situations.

Mr. Bush does not want to strip any worker of his or her intrinsic rights or protections. The president wants the flexibility to exclude any tedious process that might prevent the agency from responding to threats on a moment's notice.

Terrorists do not negotiate. Terrorists will not wait for union mediation. The clues to an impending attack might precede terrorist mobilization by only hours or minutes. This isn't your typical war and should not be your typical agency.

This is not a partisan debate. A number of Democrats favor the president retaining this authority. "In the short time I've been here, I've never seen such a clear choice as there is on this issue. Why in the name of homeland security do we want to take power away from the president that he possessed on September 11? Power that Jimmy Carter had. Power that Ronald Reagan had? Power that the first President Bush had and power that Bill Clinton had," said Georgia Democrat Senator Zell Miller.

This is truly a war against an unseen enemy. To delay is to add danger to an already dangerous situation. Protecting the homeland from terrorists will undoubtedly be noted as one of the greatest challenges ever faced by the United States. We must give this new department a clean slate the ability to turn on a dime to protect our people, our infrastructure, and our nation. I urge the Senate to use the rest of this congressional session wisely and vote on Mr. Bush's homeland security proposal.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, Florida Republican, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the Budget Committee and the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

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