- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

Last week, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chief sponsor of Senate Democrats' bill to create a Department of Homeland Security, blasted President Bush's insistence that the executive branch retain the flexibility to manage the new department, the agency that will spearhead the nation's effort to prevent future September 11ths. Appearing at a rally sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees with fellow Democrats Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Mr. Lieberman suggested that Mr. Bush had to be reminded that the United States' real enemy is Osama bin Laden, not the federal workforce. He further suggested that Mr. Bush's concerns about his bill were not serious and had instead resulted from "ideological, anti-worker" advisers who have "steered" the president in the wrong direction.
But, as Mr. Bush noted Saturday in his nationally broadcast radio address, Mr. Lieberman and his fellow Democratic partisans are flat wrong. While the House-passed bill creating this department would give the president the authority to rapidly shift resources and streamline functions to deal with a wide and changing array of potential terrorist threats, the Senate version pushed by Mr. Lieberman would not. As Mr. Bush observed, enabling the executive branch to do this is hardly new or revolutionary: This authority is available to numerous agencies, including the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.
George Nesterczuk, an expert on federal labor issues and former staff director of the House subcommittee on the civil service, points out on today's op-ed page of The Washington Times that Mr. Bush's criticisms of the Lieberman bill are anything but trivial or part of some sinister plot to deprive workers of their rights.
Since 1978, the executive branch has had the authority to exempt certain agencies from union control if the president decides that such control would interfere with their "primary function of intelligence, counterintelligence or national security work" under Title 5 of the U.S. Code. Organized labor and its allies want to weaken the president's authority to take such actions. They would substantially achieve this by giving the Federal Labor Relations Authority the responsibility for reviewing these actions as Mr. Lieberman proposes to do.
Mr. Nesterczuk, a Heritage Foundation consultant, makes a compelling case that this would be a huge mistake, given that the authority is frequently tied up in dealing with bureaucratic minutiae and time-consuming litigation while more substantive matters go unresolved. He points out, for example, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been trying since 1997 to devise a policy for searching illegal aliens it apprehends. After failing to reach agreement with a union, the INS sought to implement its "best and final offer." The union appealed to the authority, and five years later, the problem-plagued INS still has no policy governing how to conduct searches. Nor is this an isolated case: Mr. Nesterczuk observes that the authority and a related board called the Federal Service Impasses Panel have had to decide such matters of critical consequence as whether a radio could be used at a Housing and Urban Development work site, whether jeans could be worn on Fridays at the Office of the U.S. Attorney and whether employees at a Small Business Administration office are entitled to free bottled water.
It would be intolerable to allow the new department charged with protecting Americans from future terrorist atrocities to be subject to this sort of bureaucratic paralysis. The Bush administration has correctly warned that depriving the president of his authority to circumvent this red tape in a final version of the bill will likely result in a veto.
A homeland security bill retaining the president's right to make changes under Title 5 is hardly a revolutionary concept. It would leave employees of the new department with "only" the same protections that hundreds of thousands of workers at the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the offices of Enforcement and Intelligence at the DEA and security-related employees with numerous other federal agencies have had for years.
In sum, the Bush administration must stand firm against any efforts to turn the Homeland Security Department bill into a vehicle for enhancing federal employee union power at the expense of the president's authority to manage this critical agency. If Mr. Lieberman insists on pressing ahead with the bill before the Senate, he will leave Mr. Bush with no responsible choice but to veto legislation to create this Homeland Security Department.


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