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From owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu Tue Aug 6 10:30:15 2002
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2002 01:00:21 -0500 (CDT)
From: ListMeister <SolidarityInfoServices@igc.org>
Subject: Launch Iraq Attack? No Way!; Security Agency But Whose
Article: 143352
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Security Agency, Yes, but Whose Version?

By David Firestone, The New York Times, 4 August 2002

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2—If all had gone according to plan, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman would have successfully shepherded the Homeland Security Department bill through the Senate before the recess this weekend and could then have enjoyed the glow of a solid accomplishment on the Sunday talk shows.

But construction of the department is not going according to plan not Mr. Lieberman's, President Bush's nor anyone else's.

The Senate did not even take up the Homeland Security Department before leaving town, unable to overcome the threats of delay from senators who want to rethink the proposal. Though the bill will come up again when the Senate returns on Sept. 3, it faces a protracted debate on labor and personnel issues, stumbling blocks that few had foreseen.

Sharp differences between the Senate and House versions of the department could add days or weeks to final passage as compromises are thrashed out in a conference committee. Though eventual passage seems assured, earlier hopes for a new department by the memorial deadline of Sept. 11 have been virtually abandoned. Supporters say they will now be relieved to reach their goal before Congress ends its session in late October.

Slowdowns on a project of this size are not terribly surprising, considering that the department represents the largest reorganization of the federal government since the creation of the Defense Department in the 1940's. What is frustrating for Mr. Lieberman and other proponents is that the basic architecture of the agency is no longer in much dispute.

The disagreements we now face are just so peripheral that it's hard to understand, Mr. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview before the recess. How can we allow this critically important consideration of how to prevent another terrorist attack to be stopped or slowed by a labor-management dispute?

In the seven weeks since the White House sent the draft of its domestic security bill to Capitol Hill, administration officials have not given an inch in their demand to include new powers for managers over the workers in the new department. The bill would let managers hire and fire, promote and demote without having to adhere to many of the rigid Civil Service rules that apply to most of the 170,000 employees who would be moved to the department.

Democrats have been similarly unbending in supporting the job security that federal workers won after years of collective bargaining. Most House Democrats voted against that chamber's bill, essentially the administration's version, and Mr. Lieberman said he was not in a mood to yield on this issue in the Senate.

A result, Senator Phil Gramm, Republican of Texas, said this week, is that a major battle is brewing upon the Senate's return. Mr. Gramm, sponsor of the administration's legislation in the Senate, gave a depiction of the issue that shows why the two sides are so far apart. Why, he asked, should department workers protecting the nation not be like the marines, who go where they are told and can be discharged for poor performance? By contrast, he said, Border Patrol agents cannot be easily moved to respond to security needs without an elaborate transfer process, and Civil Service workers are very hard to dismiss.

Federal workers are not the same as enlisted military personnel, and Democrats say their rights cannot be dismissed simply because the administration feels hamstrung by work rules won long before Sept. 11. Democrats, and not a few Republicans, want to make sure that the traditional missions of transferred agencies like the Coast Guard are explicitly preserved in the new department, precisely because they fear that the administration will see its employees as an undifferentiated corps of quasisoldiers, movable at will.

The department has also been criticized by several senators, notably Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, who say the administration is trying to use the emergency nature of the department to undermine traditional Congressional oversight.

As the chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee and architect of the Senate bill, Mr. Lieberman seems pained by the unanticipated roadblocks. His committee had proposed the department before Mr. Bush had, and he clearly shared the president's hopes for a relatively rapid bipartisan approval, an accomplishment that could be useful on his risumi if he decides to challenge Mr. Bush in 2004.

I'm very invested in this effort, he said.

He has to contend with Senate traditionalists of his party on the one hand and Republican conservatives on the other.

There is absolutely an urgency to this, and it simply must be done by the end of the year to reduce our vulnerability, Mr. Lieberman said, shaking his head at Mr. Byrd's suggestion that approval be put off until next year. And that's why I really hope the administration postpones this fight over Civil Service protections for another day. I wonder whether someone inside the White House may have convinced the president to make this a larger issue because of some partisan ideological agenda that has no place here.

Those arguments may turn out to be contradictory. Some Democrats say privately that the urgent desire to approve the department may persuade a few wavering senators not to fight on the Civil Service issue. If that occurs, Mr. Lieberman and other Democrats loyal to labor will have to decide how high a price to pay to recoup their investment in a reorganized government.