- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

Administration officials and labor union representatives embarked yesterday on the ticklish and potentially difficult process of agreeing on a unified personnel system for the new Department of Homeland Security.

The three-day public meeting in downtown Washington is examining a series of more than 50 options drawn up by a team from the Homeland Security Department and the Office of Personnel Management. A report of its discussions — but not recommendations — will be forwarded to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and OPM chief Kay Coles James.

Together, Mr. Ridge and Mrs. James will make the final decision about what kind of pay system, labor-relations structure and discipline and grievance procedures the department — with its 180,000 employees from 22 agencies — will use.

“It was an excellent day,” Ron James, the department’s chief human capital officer, told United Press International. “There were great ranges of divergent views expressed, but it was all very constructive.”

Union leaders were less sanguine.

“A lot of our people feel like they’re being led down the garden path and that management isn’t listening to our input,” John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told UPI.

AFGE, representing 85,000 Homeland Security employees, was the largest union represented at the talks.

The act that established the department gave its management wide-ranging rights to waive the employment conditions set by law for other federal employees — but only a after a bitter battle.

The administration argued that the department’s management needed a free hand so it could react quickly to changing threats.

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