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Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2002 / 26 Tishrei, 5763

Jim Wooten

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The difference between mail and security: Why are the unions willing to put the nation at risk? | America's armed forces should never be subject to union work rules. Neither should the agencies responsible for homeland security.

This is nuts. The proposed Department of Homeland Security, now being debated in the U.S. Senate, would combine 22 government agencies or functions into a single department. The new department, as it now stands, would have 170,000 employees with 80 different personnel management systems, seven different payroll systems, 17 different unions and 77 existing bargaining units.

One vehicle crossing the border could fall under the purview of three different chains of authority involved, said Gov. Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security, in a phone interview last week. One would check the driver, another the cargo and a third would be summoned if anything suspicious is found.

Ridge and President Bush want authority to fashion the 22 entities into a department with the flexibility to respond quickly to terrorist threats. Bush has asked for more freedom to hire, fire and deploy the new department's workers, including the 43,000 represented by organized labor.

Labor has dispatched more than 30 lobbyists to pressure Democrats in the Senate, successfully so far, to block Bush's proposal. Meanwhile, both parties have piled on the pork and spending for unrelated programs. Since Bush submitted it, proposed homeland security costs rose from $3.3 billion through 2007, to $10.7 billion. A 35-page bill has grown to more than 300, with unrelated projects, such as Amtrak car and tunnel repair, thrown in.

While add-on costs are skyrocketing, Bush and Ridge are more upset about being hamstrung by Senate revisions that maintain organized labor control and prevent significant reductions in redundancies and job duplications.

Senate Democrats have offered a cleverly vague "compromise" that would require the president to demonstrate that an individual's job has "materially changed" before collective bargaining agreements can be suspended.

" 'Materially changed' lends itself to a lot of interpretation," says Ridge. "But the folks at Customs [one of the 22 agencies] are going to be basically doing the same thing; we are not going to be asking them to do anything differently." That language spells years of labor-management quibble.

The administration wants, too, some authority to consolidate and to use the savings to, for example, hire more customs or immigration agents. Senate language would prohibit real consolidation. Instead, Ridge says, the boxes are moved together and given new letterhead. If that's all there is, Ridge says he'll recommend a veto.

"As his assistant and adviser on homeland security measures, if he looked to me, I would say: 'Mr. President, it impairs the ability of this country to do what we need to do to protect Americans' and I'd recommend he veto it," Ridge says.

Georgia's two senators are, as is often the case, taking entirely different approaches. U.S. Sen. Zell Miller joined with Republican Phil Gramm of Texas to offer an amendment with labor protections that could satisfy the president's objections.

U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a member of the committee writing organized labor's agenda into homeland security legislation, is following his customary routine. Just as reliably as any of a thousand ward heelers from the Democratic precinct office, he votes the party line. Tell me how Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle voted and I'll predict Cleland's.

All of us, at some time in our lives, have sought service from union-protected public sector employees.

With my mail, it's tolerable.

With national security, it's not.

Comment on JWR contributor Jim Wooten's column by clicking here.

01/10/02: Left using cynicism to spin war
09/24/01: With global support waffling, U.S. must take responsibility
09/13/01: As in 1941, nation has a united purpose
06/28/01: Europe discovered the real Bush, now it's time for America to do so, too
05/31/01: In New South, Jeffords defection will force voters in next senatorial race to decide which of two starkly different views of government will prevail
04/13/01: High Court grants another building block in the case for faith-based involvement in addressing the nation's social ills
03/29/01: It's tough being an adult in the land of sound bites and transfer payments
03/22/01: End Bar Association's say on nominees to federal bench
02/27/01: Stop punishing those who live responsibly
01/23/01: The language of opposition turns vicious
01/12/01: Practicing what she preaches was Chavez's only offense
12/14/00: Our divided nation --- and those who caused it
12/07/00: Honest labor is for chumps who can't talk and politic their way to wealth


© Jim Wooten