WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday asserted the value of maintaining worker protections in a new Department of Homeland Security and said the administration will have all the management authority it needs to run an efficient, performance-driven department.
Standing with over 100 unionized public servants, including New York Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Telesca and Federal Emergency Management Agency Analyst Denise Dukes, Lieberman dismissed President Bush’s implication that a strong domestic defense agency is incompatible with maintaining the collective bargaining rights of 43,000 employees who would be transferred into the new department.
“These employees may be represented by a union,” he said, “but the only label they wear is American.” Lieberman called it “bizarre” that the president has boiled down a “critical and common mission” to protect Americans from terrorist attack to an argument over labor issues. “The White House seems to have lost its focus by indulging in a partisan sideshow only peripherally related to homeland security,” Lieberman said. “The problem here isn’t union rights. The problem is porous borders, and the failure to share information among intelligence agencies.”
The bill approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and now being debated on the Senate floor would safeguard America’s borders and critical infrastructure, connect the intelligence dots, improve immigration security, leverage technological capabilities, and prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Lieberman said the bill gives the new department secretary more flexibility to run an efficient, effective, and performance-driven department than the law now provides because:
• The homeland security legislation includes bipartisan reforms to the civil service law – reforms the president has requested in his 2003 budget – that give the secretary new management tools to hire employees, reward excellence, and reshape the workforce.
• With the powers in existing law and new ones added, the administration will be able to swiftly hire, transfer, discipline, and fire. It may even remove employees from unions when national security is at stake – if the administration states clear reasons for taking such extraordinary action.
• Down the road, if more reforms are needed, the legislation specifically requires the administration to submit them no later than six, 12, and 18 months after the law takes effect. “I resist the president’s attempt,” Lieberman said, “to circumvent constitutional checks and balances in order to obtain radical, sweeping new authorities to consolidate, dissolve, hire and fire with no regard for Congress’ statutory role, much less the morale and historic protections of public employees.”