- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Today, Sens. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, and Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, will introduce a critical compromise amendment that could break the logjam over federal labor policy, which has bogged down Senate debate over President Bush's proposal to create a new Homeland Security Department.
For the past three weeks, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, together with unions and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, have effectively made legislative progress impossible by insisting that the Senate measure strip the president of longstanding authority to exempt certain federal agencies from labor union control. Since Jimmy Carter's time, the executive branch has had the authority to take such a step if the president decides that such control would interfere with the agencies' "primary function of intelligence, counterintelligence or national security work" under Title 5 of the U.S. Code.
It is essential that the president retain such authority, because agencies responsible for resolving labor-management disputes in the federal government (foremost among them the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Federal Service Impasses Panel) are hopelessly bogged down in adjudicating small details, such as whether employees can listen to the radio at work or are entitled to free bottled water on the job. President Bush has repeatedly warned that he may veto any final version of the bill that deprives him of his authority to circumvent this red tape particularly when it comes to running the federal agency primarily responsible for preventing terrorist attacks.
The president's counteroffer is hardly unreasonable. He would leave employees of the new Department of Homeland Security with the same protections that hundreds of thousands of workers at such agencies as the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the offices of Enforcement and Intelligence at the DEA already have under Title 5. But thus far, neither Messrs. Daschle and Lieberman, nor powerful federal employee unions like the American Federation of Government Employees have budged.
In a proposal that would constitute a solid compromise, Messrs. Gramm and Miller will offer an amendment to the homeland security bill that would expand workers' ability to appeal firings, while leaving the ultimate decision-making authority on this score in the hands of the president. Mr. Bush supports the Gramm-Miller amendment. Thus far, however, the Senate is split along party lines, with all Democrats except Mr. Miller thought to be in opposition and all Republicans except Sen. Lincoln Chafee, who is undecided, supporting Gramm-Miller. In an effort to derail the amendment, Democratic Sens. John Breaux and Ben Nelson have put forward a non-compromise compromise of their own, which would leave such sensitive national security-related personnel matters in the hands of federal boards like the FLRA not the president of the United States. The president will have no responsible choice but to veto any bill that strips him of his authority in this area.
There are at least two other potential amendments that could necessitate a veto. One, which Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey is expected to propose, would grant EPA added authority, at the expense of the Homeland Security Department, to oversee security measures to thwart terrorists who seek to use toxic chemicals as weapons against Americans. Meanwhile, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, offered an amendment that the Senate approved unanimously last week, which would create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy called the Office for National Capital Regional Coordination. (The House version, on the other hand, mandates something far more responsible: that the homeland security secretary coordinate civil-defense matters with the District of Columbia.)
The Senate would be making a grave mistake if it continues to allow the homeland security bill to get bogged down by extraneous matters, thereby increasing the likelihood of a presidential veto.

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