The message was heartbreaking for Locke to give, and difficult for social worker Cindy Coffer to hear. She is among the 130 dedicated employees who will be laid off.
"It's a hard situation for a lot of people to be in because you were secure and now you're not," said Coffer.
Andrew Brumsley from the American Federation of Government Employees sat in on the meeting. He says union members in South Mississippi and Louisiana face major challenges.
"When you get a certain age, it's hard to start over and look a different job or a better job. So they're really sad," he said. "They've had a hard time."
Damage from Hurricane Katrina relocated the hundreds of veterans who lived here to Washington, D.C. Now the government is trying to help the staff left behind make a difficult transition.
"This is one where information needed to be disseminated on a personal basis on that kind of level where people could ask questions about what am I supposed to do after two months? What is going to happen after this RIF period? What does severance mean? What does unemployment insurance mean?" said Locke. "These kinds of questions needed to be answered."
Although many employees were grateful for government help so far, they would like to get hiring preference for federal jobs outside south Mississippi.
"Is there any program for the employees here to get a job outside the local area. Bottom Line? Yes or no?," asked one employee asked during the meeting. "No" he was told.
It could take months. It could take years. No one is sure when the Armed Forces Retirement home will reopen here in Gulfport, but officials say it definitely will be back.
"I can tell you this that we will reopen. We have over 300 residents who are calling their congressmen, and I don't think they really want to hear from them all the time."
For the next two years, any laid off workers who want their jobs back will have first consideration when the retirement home re-opens.
At the meeting laid off workers learned they may be eligible for early retirement, extended health benefits, and job training. Union members say they would like to meet with the government officials to discuss adding to those options.
by Danielle Thomas
Scientists union opposes EPA's pesticide-test plan
Proposal on human experimentation raises ethical concerns, agency employees say
By Andrew Schneider
December 7, 2005, 9:23 PM EST
The union representing scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency added its voice Wednesday to critics who are protesting the agency's proposed rule for human experimentation in testing pesticides.
The rule, which Congress ordered the agency to develop earlier this year, has been criticized by several members of Congress and some EPA personnel as allowing unethical ex perimentation and failing to protect children and pregnant women.
The American Federation of Government Employees, in a letter sent Wednesday night to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, said it is "extremely concerned that the proposed rule has so many loopholes and exceptions to provide any sort of enforceable ethical standards for human studies."
The union said that if the rule is put into effect as proposed, it could create "serious ethi cal and liability problems" for EPA employees.
The EPA insists that the language in the new rule is completely protective and permits only ethical actions.
"EPA has repeatedly insisted that the proposal provides for rigorous protections, and only studies that meet rigorous scientific and ethical standards will be permitted," said Eryn Witcher, the EPA's press secretary. She added that all completed studies will be reviewed "to insure they meet all the new ethical protections."
Many of the agency's toxicologists, scientists and health experts vehemently disagree.
"My people feel very strongly about this," said Dave Christenson, a member of the union's national council and president of its Denver-based local. "The main reason that most people came to EPA was because we wanted to protect public health. This rule is really undercutting what EPA is supposed to stand for."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who is leading the fight against the rule, said it would allow the EPA to consider unethical tests on pregnant women, infants and children.
"Rather than serving the interests of the pesticide industry, EPA should heed the advice of these dedicated public servants and scrap this deeply flawed approach," Boxer said in a statement Wednesday night.
The period during which the public can comment on the planned rule ends next week. The deadline for issuing the final rule is the end of January 2006.
As proposed, the rule would govern all pesticide studies done by the EPA, funded by the agency or conducted by industry and submitted for EPA consideration in deciding whether to license or register a pesticide for specific uses.
"The pesticide companies want to use this data and be able to sell their pesticides for a whole slew of uses that they're restricted from now, but their track records of ethical violations in what they submit is alarming," said Christenson.
Christenson and other critics say that the portions of the proposed rules that concern them include:
• The inability of EPA scientists to ensure that industry followed ethical guidelines, such as informing test subjects of the potential hazard from the poisons to which they're being exposed.
• The lack of a firm ban on the use of prisoners as test subjects.
• Provisions that would let rules forbidding testing of infants, children and pregnant women to be set aside on the decision of the EPA administrator.
"Also of concern is that the rule would allow testing on children who 'cannot be reasonably consulted,' such as those that are mentally handicapped, does not require parental consent for testing on children who have been neglected or abused, and accepts studies done on children outside of the United States, which may not comply with EPA standards," said Charles Orzehoskie, president of the union's national council of EPA locals.
Interviews with more than a dozen EPA scientists from offices across the country found none who objected to all human testing, only to testing that failed to follow ethical guide lines.
The EPA employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, all said they feared they were going to be caught in the middle by the ethical loopholes.
"If this rule is adopted as written, our people will either have to stand up for what's ethical and proper and face possible disciplinary action or do what their manager will direct them to use regardless of the ethical problems," he said. "Our scientists should never have to face this kind of moral dilemma."
Christenson also said that "in order to give our scientists the protection they need, all the ethical loopholes in the proposed rule must be removed."
He added that "strong, consistent ethical rules must apply to all EPA programs involved with human-subject research, not just pesticides. Without this, there is no protection."
Federal Employees Union Supports 9/11 Commission Findings - 12/07/2005
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says it is imperative that the administration and Congress immediately implement the 9/11 Public Discourse Project's suggestions on improving national security.
The union represents 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia, including the largest constituency of Department of Homeland Security employees, including border patrol, customs and border protection, immigration and customs enforcement officers; Transportation Security Administration screeners; Federal Emergency Management Agency workers; and civilian Coast Guard employees.
"The final report on 9/11 commission recommendations is extremely worrisome and only reinforces AFGE's assertions that the administration is not doing enough to protect the American public," said AFGE National Homeland Security Council President Charles Showalter. "The administration received twice as many Cs, Ds and Fs as it did As or Bs. More than just disconcerting, that simply is unacceptable. How can we trust this administration on any issues when it's proven unable to meet our security needs?"
"Among our chief concerns is the failing grade given to rrisk-based allocation of Homeland Security funding. It's incomprehensible that the administration continues to distribute Homeland Security funds without regard to risk. In order to protect this nation, our defenses must be the strongest where we are most vulnerable. It is essential that Congress get its priorities straight and reallocate the funds in this area."
Showalter noted that as a union representing some of the country's homeland security employees, AFGE was worried about the poor marks given under the Border Security section.
Showalter called the One Face at the Border program "a total disaster," adding, "You have highly skilled, dedicated officers working outside of their areas of expertise and working outside of the areas they've been trained."
"The three components of One Face – Agriculture, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – are highly specialized and require focused training," Showalter said. "Throwing the employees of these agencies together and expecting them to do a job they aren't trained for is a disaster waiting to happen."
Bonner pitches merging agencies
By Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published December 7, 2005
The creation of separate agencies for immigration enforcement and border security was a mistake that can be fixed by merging the two operations, says former-U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.
"There is a simple principle -- bureaucracy 101 -- that applies here: If you want people to work together, you don't split them into two separate agencies," said Mr. Bonner, the highest-ranking former official to publicly criticize splitting CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when creating the Department of Homeland Security.
"From my point of view, it is like trying to function with an important part of your anatomy cut off."
Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge who led the U.S. Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, was named by President Bush to head CBP at its March 2003 creation. Mr. Bonner resigned Thanksgiving Day to return to private law practice in Los Angeles.
The agency split that put immigration investigators in ICE and border agents in CBP, he told The Washington Times, made "as much sense as splitting a major police department in two -- putting all the uniformed front-line police in one department and all the detectives in another, with two separate chiefs of police, and then expecting them to work well together.
"CBP's mission is to interdict drugs and potential terrorists, but most of our interdictions are based on CBP's own targeting and not what CBP gets from ICE," Mr. Bonner said. "This breakdown in the intelligence and the feedback loop could be fixed simply by merging CBP and ICE -- to truly create one border agency, but one with the investigative and intelligence capacity to do the job."
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has committed to giving ICE a chance to succeed independently under a reorganization plan he proposed earlier this year.
Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said Congress and the Bush administration "clearly recognized the distinct and dynamic roles" played by ICE and CBP, and have been "very clear" that they do not support a merger of the two. He said the reorganization plan "eliminates layers of bureaucracy and increases accountability and visibility" for both agencies.
Mr. Knocke said that since the creation of the two agencies, the department has seen an increase in productivity in every facet of its law-enforcement activities, with "many cases breaking annual enforcement records." He also said intelligence gathering and dissemination had been streamlined and were being made available to all agencies.
Mr. Bonner's concerns are in line with a November report by the Homeland Security Department's Office of Inspector General, which said CBP and ICE, under the current structure, were inefficient.
Mr. Bonner's concerns about the creation of CBP and ICE first were outlined in a Dec. 16, 2002, letter to Mr. Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, in which he recommended against separate border-enforcement agencies, saying the split would be "exceedingly complicated and muddy."
Uncertainty clouds DOD pay plan
Pentagon's new salary rules could create sharper pay differences
BY Florence Olsen
Published on Dec. 5, 2005
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Federal information technology employees might fare better financially under the Defense Department's new pay system than they did under the old system of pay grades. But no one knows for certain if that will be true.
Pentagon officials designed the new system to more closely resemble the way in which businesses pay their employees.
DOD systems engineers, data architects, Web programmers and others with sought-after skills will do well under a system that uses market-based pay rates and salary increases to reward exceptional job performance, said Marjorie Bynum, vice president of workforce issues at the IT Association of America.
"We think that anything that's going to allow a government agency to broaden opportunities for skill development, better identify talent and help employees move up the career ladder is a very good thing," Bynum said.
Others, including officials at employee unions, are less certain that IT workers or managers will be better off under the new pay system. In a competitive labor market, skilled IT employees should be able to count on raises.
But in places such as San Diego, where the IT labor market is tight and DOD has a high employee-retention rate, employees might not receive the same performance raises as workers in other markets under the new plan.
"There is just no assurance that IT people will do any better than they're doing now," said Mark Roth, general counsel at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents 260,000 civilian DOD workers.
One reason for uncertainty about how the new pay system will affect IT employees is a lack of specifics in the regulations for the National Security Personnel System (NSPS).
DOD officials must still work out the details for how pay bands, or broadly defined pay ranges, and other features of the new system will operate. Pay bands will replace the General Schedule pay and job classification system, which DOD officials say lacks flexibility.
Pay bands could lead to sharp disparities in pay for federal employees in similar occupations, Roth said, adding that such situations are found mainly in unhealthy companies.
"A tiered pay system is usually an indication that a company is in trouble and is spiraling downward," he said.
Pay pools are another feature of DOD's new pay system that union officials criticize but Bush administration officials defend. Pay pools refer to the payroll funds that DOD will allocate to reward high-performing employees.
In hundreds of comments that DOD officials received regarding the new pay system, critics said they doubt that DOD will have enough money to put into the pay pools to reward the best performers.
Others said that DOD might be tempted to divert money from pay pools to cover other expenses. Critics said they suspect that most of the pay pool money would go to high- performing supervisors and managers, leaving less for rewarding lower-level high performers.
In response to those criticisms, Navy Secretary Gordon England, senior executive of NSPS, said DOD is taking steps to ensure that pay pool funding is protected and managed fairly.
Roth said he doubts that the new pay system will work, even if DOD wins a lawsuit that AFGE and other unions have filed against it.
"It's going to end up going away much like merit pay did in the 1980s," he said. That's when the government instituted a merit pay system for federal managers, but it never provided adequate funding.
"Managers didn't get bonuses for 10 years, regardless of their evaluations, so finally everyone threw up their hands and said, 'It doesn't work.'"
December 05, 2005
DoD’S new pay scales Draft rules tackle pay, promotions, appraisals
By TIM KAUFFMAN
About 500,000 employees converting to the Defense Department’s new performance-based pay system would be grouped into one of four broad career categories with pay ranges that closely track the General Schedule, according to new details of a draft plan released by the department.
Employees will be converted into the new system without a pay reduction. Many, in fact, will receive an immediate pay increase to account for any within-grade pay increases they earned under the General Schedule.
The department selected four career groups based on differences in training needs, compensation and similar factors, said Mary Lacey, program executive officer for the new personnel system, called the National Security Personnel System. They are standard, scientific and engineering, medical, and investigative and protective. There are several pay schedules within each group to recognize different career fields — such as professional, technical and managerial — and multiple pay bands within each schedule to reflect different performance levels.
The Defense Department published new details about its proposed personnel system on its Web site on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. Now only in draft form, the directives detail how employees will convert to NSPS and changes to classification, pay, performance management, staffing and employment and work force shaping. Defense officials are discussing the draft with union leaders and hope to finalize the new system by early next year.
Defense structured the new pay bands on market conditions and the natural career progression for key occupations within the career groups, Lacey said Nov. 29 during a conference hosted by the International Public Management Association for Human Resources Federal Section. The pay ranges within each proposed pay scale generally correspond to the General Schedule, although top salaries max out at slightly higher rates for some groups. For example, supervisors and managers in the second and third pay bands will be able to earn up to 5 percent above GS-14, Step 10 and GS-15, Step 10, respectively.
An official at the Federal Managers Association said he’s encouraged by the department’s decision to create pay scales that largely mirror the General Schedule and believes it will inspire some confidence among employees about the new system.
“While this is a different pay structure, they’re still relying on a familiar foundation,” said Thomas Richards, senior government and public affairs representative at FMA.
Unlike the General Schedule, the new pay scales contain no intermediate steps, so employees who are performing at or above expectations will be eligible for pay raises that fall anywhere within the pay range. Top performers conceivably could progress more quickly up the pay scale than under the General Schedule, which limits the amount and frequency of within-grade increases.
However, some employees could end up receiving smaller increases than they would under the General Schedule because the size of the raises will be left largely up to department managers, said Mark Gibson, a labor relations specialist with the American Federation of Government Employees.
Pay banding “gives people the perception that they’re likely going to earn more. That, my friend, ain’t going to happen,” Gibson said. “This thing is designed to force managers to manage civilian payrolls within budget parameters.”
The new personnel system also consolidates the department’s inventory of job classifications. Defense currently maintains 2 million position descriptions for a civilian work force that totals about 746,000, Lacey said. Many of the changes are intended to streamline that complex classification structure — for example, by collapsing 23 separate career fields for logisticians into four categories, she said.
There are separate pay bands for managers and supervisors within each career group, although not all employees performing supervisory duties will be placed in one of those.
According to the draft directives, supervisors at the GS-9 and GS-10 levels who are in professional, administrative and analytical occupations will be placed in nonsupervisory pay scales for those occupations. GS-11 supervisors who also perform work at the GS-11 level could be placed in a nonsupervisory pay scale as well.
Richards said placing supervisors in the same pay band as the employees they supervise is problematic.
“When you have supervisors in the same pay band as employees, you run the risk of having employees make more than their supervisors,” Richards said. “You run the risk of supervisors not being treated and compensated as supervisors.”
The directives only address the conversion of Defense’s General Schedule employees. Details on how the department’s 150,000 Wage Grade workers will transition to the new system aren’t complete.
Department managers met with union representatives Dec. 1 and 2 to discuss the proposed changes, as required by the 2003 law authorizing the creation of a new personnel system. Employee representatives have until Dec. 23 to provide formal comments on the directives.
Union leaders complain they are being given little time to review the complex documents, which form the heart of the new personnel system.
“Given the degree of complexity on this stuff, only to provide 30 days’ notice, it’s unreasonable,” said AFGE’s Gibson.
Gibson said he’s heard from employees who complain that there’s no formal mechanism for them to provide feedback to the department on the directives.
Defense hopes to begin rolling out the new personnel system Feb. 1, although it’s facing a lawsuit from AFGE and other unions over the labor and appeals portions of the new rules. Part of the lawsuit challenges the department’s assertion that directives executing NSPS will override existing collective bargaining agreements that don’t comply to the changes.
“The government has refused to tell us what parts of our contract they think are voidable,” said Joe Goldberg, associate general counsel at AFGE. “We have to guess what we think the government thinks will be voidable and then come up with counter-reasons.”
December 4, 2005
Bush VA Appointees Diverted Healthcare Funds for Illegal Studies
Funds were diverted from veterans’ healthcare to pay for studies on outsourcing jobs and closing VA hospitals – The dismantling of the VA is leading to privatization
By Larry Scott
One of the maxims of the Bush administration is: Never let the law get in your way. The political appointees who run the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) certainly know how to play by those rules.
Between 2001 and 2004 the VA illegally diverted funds earmarked for veterans’ healthcare to pay for studies on outsourcing jobs at VA facilities and to fund other studies on closing VA hospitals. The report detailing the VA’s misdeeds was released last week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (The full GAO report is available here -- http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06124r.pdf)
The VA officially denies any wrongdoing. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson argued, "Congress clearly did not intend to preclude all manner of cost analysis necessary for the day-to-day administration of our health-care system …” However, Congress did pass legislation in 1981 that prohibits the diversion of funds appropriated to VA medical care accounts for studies on the cost of keeping work in-house versus that of contracting it out.
During the time VA officials were misappropriating funds they were working with Republicans in Congress to try to change the 1981 law that they were breaking. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced legislation (S. 1182 Sec 7) to do away with the prohibition and allow the VA to spend healthcare funds on outsourcing studies.
Also during this time the VA asked Congress for funds to conduct outsourcing studies. The amounts ranged from $16 million to $50 million. The VA was turned down every time. Since the VA couldn’t get the funds, they just broke the law.
This came to public attention earlier this year when the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents many VA employees, began a concerted effort to halt Senator Craig’s legislation.
The AFGE maintained that 36,000 VA jobs could be lost to outsourcing. And, one-third of those positions were filled by veterans, many of them with service-connected disabilities. The cost of the studies could be staggering, running from $10,000 to $40,000 per job studied. At a minimum this would be an expenditure of $360 million.
How much the VA actually spent on outsourcing studies is a matter of debate because, according to the GAO, the VA failed to track the expenditures.
The VA was also caught with its hand in the healthcare till on another group of studies, these done for the Capital Assessment Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission. CARES was set up to study how many VA hospitals should be closed. The CARES report was issued late last year and recommended the closing of a number of VA facilities. Again, the VA did not track the amount of money taken from the healthcare budget to pay for the CARES reports.
What does all this mean?
What we are seeing is an intensive effort to privatize the VA led by the political appointees who run the agency. A large, publicly-funded healthcare system that performs well runs contrary to the Bush administration’s philosophy.
It’s vital to note that previous outsourcing studies contracted by the VA have not returned the results they wanted. When studies compared the VA’s AFGE workers and private-sector workers performing similar jobs, the government employees outperformed their “civilian” counterparts 91 per cent of the time.
The outsourcing studies are just one example. The completed illegal outsourcing studies had to do with VA laundry facilities and whether or not they are as efficient as commercial laundries. The proposed outsourcing studies cover 36,000 VA jobs in a variety of areas. If these studies become a reality, we could see many VA jobs go to the private sector. Since one-third of these jobs are held by veterans, the specter of increased unemployment in the veterans’ community is a grim reality.
The illegal studies for the CARES Commission are another example of a giant step toward privatization of the VA. CARES recommended closing a number of VA hospitals and building smaller clinics surrounding the soon-to-be-closed hospitals.
There would be no problem closing VA hospitals. But, there are no funds in the VA budget to build the clinics. And, there are no funds to staff the clinics. But, what if the VA closed their hospitals and built empty clinics? What would be the easiest way to staff those clinics? Put the services out to contract and have the clinics taken over by private-sector providers.
Currently, most VA hospitals are operating under a hiring freeze because they do not have the funds to hire the doctors, nurses and technicians needed to provide necessary healthcare to veterans.
One example is the Portland, Oregon VA hospital where only 120 beds in the 400-bed facility are in use because there are no available healthcare funds. The empty wards have been leased to a neighboring hospital. This, while Northwest veterans are denied healthcare or told they have to wait 24-36 months for medically necessary surgeries.
As the Bush administration pushes to slowly strangle the VA into privatization, veterans continue to wait for healthcare. Some of those veterans die while waiting.
Settlement paves way for retroactive language skills bonuses at CBP
By Daniel Pulliam
Customs and Border Protection employees proficient in foreign languages could receive back pay thanks to a recent agreement between the National Treasury Employees Union and the agency.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement finalized Nov. 28, certain CBP officers can take a foreign language competence test. If shown to be adequate, they will receive retroactive bonuses ranging from 3 to 5 percent of their base salaries the year they should have received the bonus.
The Foreign Language Award Program, established by the 1993 Customs Officer Pay Reform Act, allows employees who speak and use foreign language skills on the job to receive a one-time cash award if they use the language for at least 10 percent of their duties and have passed a competence test.
But according to NTEU, which represents about 14,000 CBP employees from the former Customs Service, the agency stopped testing employees for language proficiencies in 2003. This prevented employees from being part of the program and prompted the union to file a national grievance on Oct. 7, 2004.
The settlement comes as the grievance was headed to arbitration.
Under the agreement, the 444 CBP officers hired before July 25, 2004, and previously classified as customs inspectors (GS-1890) and customs canine enforcement officers (GS-1801) who applied for foreign language testing in fiscal 2004 but were not tested, and the 391 officers who applied for testing in fiscal 2005, will be scheduled for priority testing in fiscal 2006.
Employees found to have been denied testing opportunities could be given retroactive payments if they attain a score indicating adequate proficiency, according to the settlement agreement.
"It seems counterproductive for the Department of Homeland Security to not acknowledge and reward their diligence," said NTEU President Colleen Kelley. "For an administration that is pushing the idea of pay for performance, it amazed me that the leadership of DHS made a conscious decision not to reward these employees who possess a much needed skill and are performing above and beyond their job descriptions."
According to NTEU, this marks CBP's only agreement to re-implement the foreign language award program.
Charles Showalter, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' National Homeland Security Council 117, said CBP has not dealt in good faith with his union, which represents 6,500 CBP legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service employees, including border patrol guards, inspectors and lawyers.
"They don't have enough testers," Showalter said. "That's their excuse. We expect the agency to continue to resist paying officers who use foreign languages on a daily basis."
Showalter said that the agency is requiring officers to use foreign languages regularly whether or not they are being paid for it. Employees are subject to disciplinary actions if they fail to comply.
"Now that we're under one system, you'd think that DHS would do things in an appropriate manner," Showalter said. "We are pursuing this, and we do expect to get back pay for all CBP officers."
A CBP spokeswoman said the agency recognizes the value of foreign language proficiency, and it remains dedicated to furthering participation in the program.
"CBP recognizes that there was a lapse in the testing process for eligible officers under the foreign language awards program," the spokeswoman said. "That lapse was not the result of a CBP decision to discontinue testing, but was due to delays in extending the Interagency Agreement to provide testing services."
The agency paid awards under the provisions in the program to 1,570 eligible officers in fiscal 2004 and recently concluded the payment processing for eligible officers in fiscal 2005, the spokeswoman added. Testing to determine proficiency levels resumed in July and has proceeded at an accelerated pace, she said.
CBP is looking to secure additional testing services to expedite officer testing.
U.S. Border Patrol's newest tool: a drone
By Kris Axtman, The Christian Science Monitor
HOUSTON — As President Bush was bumping along the banks of the Rio Grande last week with the United States Border Patrol, an American unmanned aircraft was apparently tracking a top Al Qaeda member to an abandoned house in remote Pakistan.
While details are emerging as to whether the terrorist network's operation manager was killed in a drone attack, Mr. Bush is increasingly convinced that the military technology should be used more widely within the U.S. as well — to spot illegal border-crossers.
So far, the U.S. Border Patrol has one unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, and it is equipped solely with a camera for surveillance. But the president says he wants to outfit the border with several more.
"Slowly but surely, technology is being employed up and down the border, and that's a key part of our strategy," Bush said from El Paso, last week.
With the numbers illegally crossing the U.S. border with Mexico remaining high, estimated at 1 million people each year, the Border Patrol has increasingly turned to technology to help secure the 2,000-mile stretch. Electronic sensors, night-vision goggles, and high-tech cameras are all well established. But the UAV, known as the Predator B, is just making its border debut — and some remain unconvinced that its whopping $14 million price tag is worth it.
The Border Patrol's sector in Tucson, unveiled the first drone on Sept. 29 after some testing earlier in the year. Todd Faser, Border Patrol spokesman, says more than 1,000 illegal immigrants and over 400 pounds of illegal narcotics have been caught with its help.
The UAV will be operated by a Border Patrol agent acting as the pilot, who sits in a cockpit-like control station at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. The aircraft is flown by remote control and equipped with an electro-optic sensor that can send back images, day or night.
It can reach speeds of up to 253 miles per hour and usually hovers between 15,000 and 20,000 feet above ground while working. When an illegal entry is spotted, a Border Patrol agent sitting next to the pilot can then relay the information to other agents in the field.
The idea is that a UAV can cover far more territory than can a Border Patrol agent in an SUV. Mr. Faser calls them "force multipliers" that help agents gain control of some of the remotest parts of the border.
"Our primary mission is to prevent terrorists and their weapons from entering our country, and to do that we need the right combination of personnel, technology, and infrastructure," he says. "You can't just have a fence and no Border Patrol agents to stop illegal immigration. You can't just have 50,000 agents and no technology to stop illegal immigration. You need the proper mix."
But T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, says all technology has its limits.
Electronic sensors, for instance, can't tell whether a human being or an animal has tripped them. Cameras can, but they don't have the ability to follow somebody. UAVs can locate and track a group, but they aren't as agile as manned aircraft — and are far more costly.
"You can put a lot of boots on the ground for $14 million," says Mr. Bonner, whose union advocates more helicopters instead of drones.
The U.S. military has been using UAVs far longer than the Border Patrol. In Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, 20 types of drones flying more than 100,000 hours have been providing intelligence and shooting missiles.
"They were designed for a different purpose, and they work very well for that purpose," says Bonner. "But they are not as suitable for our purposes. We don't get our pilots shot at."
He believes Bush's call for more drones along the border is misguided and says more emphasis should be placed on making sure that employers don't hire illegal immigrants.
Still, technology can help agents do their job better, says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington — but it's not a magic bullet.
On any given shift, there is still only one Border Patrol agent per mile — even after a decade of staffing buildup. "Technology is a tool, but it's only a tool. The personnel has to be adequate and the policy objectives appropriate," says Mr. Krikorian. "I would rather see better policy and less technology."
Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005 7:02 p.m. EST
New York City Awash in Fake IDs
With 525,000 illegal immigrants in New York City, the Big Apple is awash in fake IDs, with much of the phony document trade centered in a single neighborhood in Queens.
"Roosevelt Avenue is like the mecca for fake documents," state Assemblyman Jose Peralta tells the New York Sun. "If anybody comes through New York City and they ask, 'Where can I get a false document?' the no. 1 answer is going to be Roosevelt Avenue. It's the place, it's the spot."
The Department of Homeland Security said it is aware of the problem, but explains that document fraud knows no geographic bounds.
"Roosevelt Avenue is one of the primary areas in New York City to buy false documents, but it is not limited to any borough, or any immigrant community, and it is not new," Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Mark Thorn told the paper.
Exacerbating the situation, illegal immigration into the US now tops legal immigration, according to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.
The explosion in illegals needing paperwork to pass through society has driven up demand for the phony papers.
Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa, who knows the city's streets like few civilians, tells the Sun that Latino Street gangs are increasingly behind the fake ID trade. He set up a chapter in the Roosevelt Avenue area several years ago after a rise in gang activity.
Earlier this week, NYPD's Special Fraud Unit cracked down on the document dealers after an intensive investigation by the Queens District Attorney's office. More than a dozen locations closed down.
But T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told the Sun, "You can put some out of business, but others will just spring up. As long as there's a demand for these documents and the documents continue to be accepted, people will be out there supplying."
Page: Bush's immigration plan fails because employers get a pass
Clarence Page, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
On the day before President Bush launched his new border security/guest worker proposal, he was almost upstaged by a timely and telling U.S. Border Patrol complaint: The labels on the agents uniforms read, "Made in Mexico."
It's "embarrassing" to wear a uniform made in Mexico while protecting the country's border with Mexico," T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the border cops' 6,500-member union, told the Associated Press.
Outsourced government uniforms also symbolize the real world with which President Bush must reckon. Borders, artifacts of the political world, crumble these days before the relentless pressures of the money world. The President, a businessman who occupies the world's most powerful political office, has come up with an immigration plan that tries to satisfy both worlds — and fails.
For one thing, his plan is not new. It's the same temporary worker proposal he unveiled in January 2004. It has only been repackaged with more emphasis on border security, much less on the guest worker plan, which sounds to many in Bush's own conservative base like another amnesty, similar to others passed since the 1980s. To critics, amnesties only reward lawbreakers.
His 2004 speech was headlined on the White House Web site as, "President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program." His new push, launched last week was headlined, "President Discusses Border Security and Immigration Reform in Arizona." Temporary workers? He didn't discuss them until the final quarter of his speech.
But, he's not flip-flopping. He's merely trying to calm the rising political storm that he helped to generate. Over the past year or so, the issue has erupted in an anti-immigrant backlash highlighted by a Minuteman Movement of volunteer civilian border patrollers.
The issue tells us a lot about Bush. Immigration has been one of his signature issues, although from a decidedly pro-business point of view. Since his days as Texas governor, he has seen win-win benefits in immigration policies that would supply employers with cheap immigrant labor and lure immigrant voters, particularly Hispanics, to the Republican Party.
But these days, immigration divides his conservative base more deeply than any issue since Harriet Miers' doomed Supreme Court nomination. His border-security/ guest-worker scheme could easily meet that same unhappy end. Some of his most outspoken fellow conservatives are calling for a range of anti-immigrant measures. Some proposals are as radical as a wall along the entire 2,000-mile Mexican border, using military forces to patrol the border and creating a volunteer marshal program to help patrols.
One bill sponsored by Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., would go so far as to end this nation's time-honored practice of granting automatic citizenship to children born here of undocumented immigrants. Deal's suggestion is sad, unnecessary and, I am confident, far outside the mainstream of how fair-minded Americans really feel about immigration. For example, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey in April found that 67 per cent of respondents favored using the military to guard the Mexican border, but 62 percent favored allowing undocumented immigrants now working in the United States to apply for legal, temporary worker status.
That's what Bush wants, and he cautions that his plan is not another "amnesty." But, on closer examination, one wonders: If Bush's guest-worker plan is not an amnesty, what is? His program would allow immigrants illegally in the U.S. to obtain legal status for three years, with the possibility of another three-year extension if they have a job. The workers would be required to go home after their time is up, but the president has been vague about what is to be done about those who decide they don't want to go home.
What's missing from his proposal is a serious crackdown on the biggest magnet that draws illegal immigrants: jobs. Employers love cheap labor. So do consumers, as long as it leads to cheaper prices and does not compete directly for their own jobs. Bush shows no desire to get in the way of that cozy relationship.
We don't need tougher penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegals; we only need to enforce the tough penalties that already have been legislated. Instead, employer sanctions have been so poorly enforced that actual prosecutions of employers have plummeted in recent decades. When the law lacks teeth, it is ignored.
The result has been a make-believe immigration policy: The president pretends that undocumented workers will police themselves and the rest of us pretend to believe him.
We need something more sensible than that. America thrives on immigration. It is part of our national character. But we also need some semblance of order — and fairness.