A Swift Kick in the Sinn

The White House won't give Adams the time of day. A longtime Sinn Fein fan, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), demanded the IRA disband, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had regularly welcomed Adams here on the holiday in past years, said he will not meet with him this time around.
But the official cold shoulder doesn't mean Adams won't have anyplace to party. The American Ireland Fund, a group of heavy-hitter business types with ties to Ireland and Northern Ireland, is having a black-tie dinner on St. Patrick's Day eve, honoring Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as its "man of the year."
Adams and other Northern Ireland politicos -- David Trimble, head of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Mark Durkan, head of the Social Democratic and Labour Party -- are expected to attend.
Other guests expected to be there include Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Paul Murphy.
No rule that says The Great Day can't start a wee early.
Today Iraq, Tomorrow the World?
There are still persistent rumors, despite recent vehement denials all around, that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz remains a very strong contender to be named head of the World Bank.
Just $203,436 for a Little Peek
The Freedom of Information Act isn't exactly free, as the American Federation of Government Employees recently discovered. AFGE, looking for information about what the commissioners at the Social Security Administration have been up to, filed a request for "any and/or all" meetings, appointments, hearings and then "any and/or all" notes, minutes etc., involving the events.
No problem, SSA said. "We estimate that a total of 24,661 hours of search would be required," the agency said, but the first two hours are free. So that brings the cost down to only $813,747. "You may wish to consider modifying your request to reduce the cost," the agency said.
If not, just pay a 25 percent deposit -- required for costs exceeding $250 -- which would be a bit more than $203,436.75, and they'll get right on it. You can pay by check, or the agency will take a credit card.
AFGE's thinking this one over.
W------ H. L--- III Is Shy
Assistant Secretary of Commerce William H. Lash III was said to have been most upset over a small column item last month about some minor confusion in e-mails at the department over where Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez would make his first trip.
Lash, not pleased to see his name in print, told his deputies it was "highly inappropriate" to release travel information prematurely. His top folks passed the word down. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia Henry A. Levine quickly summoned his staff for an 11:30 a.m. meeting that day, where we hear he read the item aloud and was said to have called it the worst case of unprofessionalism he had ever experienced.
There was even talk of an investigation of e-mail traffic to try to identify the leakers, but department officials couldn't confirm that.
Surely these folks have better things to worry about on the taxpayers' dime?
Tenet Collecting Thoughts and Fees
We've been forgetting to remind folks not to look for former CIA director George J. Tenet's book on his CIA years anytime soon. Crown said in December it would publish the memoir -- bidding easily topped $4 million, the Associated Press reported -- and the book would appear toward the end of this year or early next.
But Tenet recently said he is postponing the effort and needs more time to reflect.
"An undertaking of such historical consequence simply requires more time" for research and "the necessary perspective," Tenet said. Historic, indeed.
He'll have to live, in the meantime, on the huge bucks he's making in speaking fees.
Yes, There's Life After State, NHTSA, Senate
Moves of note . . . Mitchell B. Reiss, former dean of international studies at the College of William and Mary and more recently head of policy planning at the State Department during the Powell era, is heading back to the school to be vice provost for international affairs. Reiss is also President Bush's special envoy for Northern Ireland.
Kenneth N. Weinstein, top attorney for enforcement at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, has retired and headed to Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, where other former top NHTSA officials have made a home.
On the Hill, Jeffrey F. Squires, who has been the lead staffer on the highway bill for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's ranking minority member, James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), is heading private, going to be vice president for transportation program development at Parsons Corp., a transportation, infrastructure, communications conglomerate.


New work rules draw harsh response from local unions
By MICHAEL DAVIS, The Virginian-Pilot
© March 16, 2005
Last updated: 11:36 PM
One day before the deadline for comments on new Defense Department work rules, union representatives in Hampton Roads and elsewhere lashed out at the plan , calling it an assault on civil servants.
“They’re totally taking away our bargaining rights,” said Richard Harrell , head of the political action committee for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 22 in Norfolk. Local 22 represents about 5,000 white-collar and administrative workers at military installations around the region.
“It’s bad,” Harrell said.
Supporters, meanwhile, defended the proposal as a way to make the federal labor force more flexible. First approved by Congress in late 2003, the National Security Personnel System is designed to overhaul Defense Department policies that govern about 700,000 civilian workers nationwide.
The department is soliciting comments from affected employees. The comment period ends today .
More than 27,000 comments have been filed to date, although a Defense spokesman estimates that at least 21,000 are form letters sent at the urging of unions.
The new rules have a tentative starting date of July.
The redesign will make the Pentagon more efficient at recruiting and retaining workers, according to backers, and help streamline unwieldy federal bureaucracy.
For instance, they say, managers would have more freedom to transfer noncombat jobs from the military to civilian workers. And supervisors – who presumably are the most familiar with their direct employees – would exercise greater control over pay, promotions and dismissals.
“The existing systems were designed for a different time. The world has changed, jobs have changed, missions have changed, and our ... systems need to change as well to support this new environment,” said Charles S. Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in testimony to a Senate subcommittee Tuesday. “NSPS will make the d epartment a more competitive and progressive employer at a time when the country’s national security demands a highly responsive civilian work force.”
Union representatives, however, countered that the plan would undercut pay scales, collective bargaining, mediation and other workplace protections.
The grievance process would be undermined, they say , by allowing appeals to be heard by an internal D efense D epartment board rather than third-party arbitrators.
And organized labor insists supervisors could disregard seniority or skills when awarding raises or promotions or, conversely, when deciding on layoffs.
“Employees really have to believe this is a fair system for this thing to be successful,” said Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers in Washington. Currently, “employees are not buying into this.”
The local effects of any such changes would be substantial. Hampton Roads is home to more than 46,000 civilian federal employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about one in 16 local non farm jobs.
So organized labor has been pushing the issue to its membership.
The American Federation of Government Employees, for instance, has been buying half-page newspaper advertisements condemning the proposed changes in regions with large federal employment, including Hampton Roads.
Despite recent public briefings of local workers by the D efense D epartment, the rank and file remains dissatisfied, union organizers say.
“We got a lot of answers like, 'duly noted,’ and 'that will come out later,’” said Harrell. “They’re reducing our voice.”


Hard Bargain
By Kimberly Palmer
[email protected]
Sharon Pinnock is organized labor's version of a fairy godmother stripped of her powers. Throughout her 15-year career as director of membership and organization for the American Federation of Government Employees, Pinnock has been able to promise potential recruits that the union would engage in collective bargaining on their behalf. But now, because personnel reforms at several agencies - most notably the Homeland Security and Defense departments - severely restrict collective bargaining, she can no longer make that promise.
Still, Pinnock is managing to attract new followers. Instead of focusing on bargaining, she trumpets the ability of unions to protect employees against workplace inequities such as discrimination and wrongful termination. And she promises workers that she will fight to regain their place at the bargaining table. The new message is having some success. For example, Pinnock says she gets two-dozen to three-dozen membership applications every week from Transportation Security Administration employees. About 700 of the agency's 54,000 employees are dues-paying members. TSA employees were prohibited from collective bargaining under an order issued in 2002.
While the future of federal employee organizations may look bleak under the new personnel rules, bargaining restrictions are fueling labor leaders' efforts to organize employees. Workers who fear losing their jobs as a result of public-private job competitions and personnel reforms see employee groups as their lifeboat.
Even though federal employment has actually increased by 1 percent to 2.7 million jobs during President Bush's first term - after a 3 percent decline in President Clinton's second term - labor leaders say the perception of job instability is higher now. Partly as a result, union membership is increasing much more rapidly than the growth in the overall workforce. Between 2001 and 2003, the number of dues-paying members at AFGE - the largest federal union - increased by nearly 3 percent to 204,300. Membership at the National Treasury Employees Union jumped by 4.5 percent, to 77,600, according to union reports filed with the Labor Department.
"Federal employees who see what it is they're up against, especially with this administration, are becoming members when in past years they may not have been," says NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley. She says that despite the personnel system changes, members will recognize that unions still play a valuable role in negotiating for employee rights, and that there will not be a sudden decline in membership.
Those willing to make long-term predictions say prospects for federal labor groups don't look good. If the Bush administration continues to limit their power, membership likely will drop off, says Tom Juravich, professor and director of the Labor Relations and Research Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Also, shrinking membership in the private sector acts as a "drag" on public sector unions, he adds. Fewer than one in 10 workers in the private sector belong to a union, while four in 10 government workers are members, Labor statistics show.
Michael Gravinese, legislative coordinator for AFGE Local 3509, which represents Social Security Administration workers in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, worries that predictions of shrinking membership will come true. Job insecurity has helped drive up his local's membership to 800 from 645 in 2002, but Gravinese fears it will be harder to attract new members under the revised personnel policies.
Pinnock is confident her strategy will win out. She expects an initial fall in membership if more agencies restrict collective bargaining rights. But there will be a slow rebuilding, she predicts. AFGE is turning to recruitment strategies used by many private sector unions, such as visiting employees' homes and using the Internet. But without Pinnock's old powers, her job won't be easy.


More prison woes 1,500 inmates with 15 just guards at FCI in Fairton
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Staff Writer
FAIRFIELD TWP. -- Inmate to staff ratio at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fairton is more than 100 to 1, and the situation is serious.
So serious that David Gonzales, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prisons Locals 3975 and an employee of Fairton FCI, attended a township meeting on Tuesday to seek help.
"We want to enlighten the community and let the community know and understand that in the federal bureau prisons, we have a serious staffing crisis," Gonzales said.
The staffing shortage is due to $140 million in budget cuts last year.
An additional $160 million will be slashed during the 2005 fiscal year, according to Federal Prison Council 33 reports.
Mayor Craig Thomas and the committee offered to assist Gonzales, and asked him to gather statistical data in order to meet with the committee and take action to prevent the situation from getting worse.
"We would like to offer as much assistance as possible to the guards and the situation in Fairfield Township," Thomas said.
Gonzales said that the capacity of the prison is 800 and the current population is 1,550, compared to only 15 corrections officers.
New inmates actually have to wait for bed space, and once they do get it, they are triple-bunked in cells.
To make matters worse, inmate assaults, committed against both staff and other inmates, are up 28 percent since 2001.
Inmates range from minor offenders to convicted murderers sent to the facility from in and out of the state, according to Gonzales.
In addition, a September 2004 memo proposing that non-correctional employees fill vacant positions is now in effect.
Regular employees -- teachers, maintenance workers and office staff -- are now dealing with inmates directly.
Roshand Smith, FCI employee and vice president of Prison Locals 3975, stressed that these employees are not equipped to deal with the prison population.
"We cannot emphasize to the community enough the danger that's involved with the staffing shortages at this prison," she said. "We're going to do everything we can because we work there. We value our lives. But we just can't do it by ourselves."
Officers are finally carrying guns as of Tuesday, but the group that accompanied Gonzales to the meeting feels that weapons are no protection, especially considering the slayings of a judge and three other people in Georgia last week.
Gonzales also met with several government officials in February, including Congressman Frank LoBiondo, Senator Jon Corzine and Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, to address the problem.
Van Drew is working with Gonzales to get federal and media attention, but the process is slow going.
Thomas, with the committee's support, pledged to do whatever he can to help and will be going to the next community affairs meeting at the prison.
"What we're going to do is assist the guards and the staff, and contact our legislature, try to help facilitate meetings and also contact federal legislature to try to get federal help and assistance in looking at this issue, not just for Fairfield but for the entire state," Thomas said.


Border security wake-up call
By Bobby Eberle

March 14, 2005

Al Qaeda is plotting to attack the U.S. again. More precisely, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, al Qaeda has likely not taken one day off from planning to attack America with a strike even more lethal than the previous one. Recent reports indicate that the terror network has identified, and plans to exploit, the porous borders to America's North and South as entry points into the country. In particular, the border between the U.S. and Mexico stands ready as a huge "welcome mat" for terrorists, weapons, and equipment. It's time that someone puts two and two together and sees that a real war on terror includes stopping terrorists before they actually enter the country.

The Washington Times recently noted the testimony of a Homeland Security Department official who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding al Qaeda and America's southern border. The official told the committee, "Several al Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico, and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons."

En route to Mexico last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there's "no secret" that al Qaeda will try to get into America "by any means that they possibly can." Secretary Rice added, "That's how they managed to do it before and they will do everything that they can to cross borders." She noted that Americans should not be "alarmist" or "surprised" by this news, but should react to it. I agree, and the best way to react to this information is to get serious about border security and put politics aside.

On Saturday, a truck carrying twenty-one illegal aliens crashed in Colorado after having crossed the border between Mexico and Arizona. Five people were injured and one was killed. This type of activity occurs multiple times per day, every day of the year. In response to this particular incident, border security advocate Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) said that America refuses to secure the border in order to keep "the supply of cheap labor coming." Tancredo added, "We also cannot ignore the fact that when individuals undertake to come into this country illegally, they put themselves at risk. Remember that no one has ever been killed or injured by coming to America the right way -- through a Port of Entry."

If a truck filled with migrant workers can pass undetected across the border between Mexico, who's to say that al Qaeda can't easily sneak in terrorists and weapons. The fact is, they can, and to date, America has not been serious about stopping them. The intelligence reform bill passed late last year calls for the hiring of an additional 2,000 border patrol agents per year for the next five years, but Congress recently voiced bipartisan anger that the jobs are not being filled. In a recent Newsday article, Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) was quoted as saying he was "deeply disappointed" that Bush's spending plan did not include enough funds for all the agents, leaving the borders vulnerable to the "unwavering will of terrorists." According to the Newsday story, rather that 2,000 new agents, next year's budget includes funds for only 210.

In an Agape News report, T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said in reaction to these numbers that there seems to be an inability to "connect the dots to see that there's a direct relationship between border security and homeland security." Bonner added that it can be "quite discouraging for those involved in protecting U.S. borders when government leaders and decision-makers fail to demonstrate commitment to resolving their issues."

It's past time for the federal government to get serious about border security -- waging a real war on terror depends on it. However, one of the primary problems in addressing border security is that it is immersed in the politically-charged, overall issue of illegal immigration. This predicament leads to many problems in dealing with border security because there are so many other questions involved: What does America do with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country? What does America do to the employers who hire illegal workers? Why does America promote a "guest worker" program on one hand, while fighting a war on terror on the other? More roadblocks to a serious discussion about border security have been set up by traditional conservative publications like the Wall Street Journal and leaders such as Jack Kemp who have labeled those who support stricter controls on the border as "anti-immigrant" and racist.


Defense Moves From Listening to Meeting on Personnel System Changes
By Stephen Barr

Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page B02
The period for commenting ends today. The period for talking begins tomorrow.
Today is the last day for submitting comments on a proposed regulation that would overhaul how civil service employees at the Defense Department are paid, promoted and disciplined. Tomorrow begins a minimum 30-day period for Defense to "meet and confer" with employee organizations, including a coalition of 36 unions.
At a hearing yesterday, senators left little doubt that they expect the upcoming talks to address the concerns that unions, employees and outside experts have raised about the proposed regulation, which will create the National Security Personnel System.
Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who called the hearing as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on government management and the federal workforce, told Bush administration officials that they are obligated to hold "an open dialogue and maintain a collaborative process with your employees."
He read an excerpt from a letter sent him by a Defense employee in Columbus, Ohio, who said she was concerned that her supervisor would have greater discretion over her pay raises and complained that her local managers could not answer questions about the NSPS.
Defense employees, Voinovich said, "must see that they have a valued role in the shaping of NSPS."
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recalled that during his Navy years, "I saw an almost seamless working relationship" between civilians and uniformed officers in support of Vietnam War efforts. Unlike other departments, Warner said, "there is an extraordinary camaraderie between the two groups" and suggested Congress may need to evaluate the stances taken by the Pentagon and the union "and see if we can reconcile the differences in such a way to make even a stronger team."
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii), the senior Democrat on the subcommittee, said the upcoming meetings between Defense officials and union leaders "must be more than the exchange of concepts developed around vague and general policy statements."
Akaka said he does not recall a single issue during his 28 years in Congress "that has generated more anxiety among federal workers in Hawaii than the NSPS."
Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on Senate Armed Services, suggested that Defense employees might lack confidence in the NSPS after seeing how the Pentagon handled pay raises for career executives this year.
In January, the Pentagon gave some political appointees a slightly higher pay raise than some career executives, even when they had the same performance ratings. Even though the Pentagon has promised that the NSPS will reward employees based on their job performance, Levin said the disparate treatment of some executives, based on political status, showed that "you are not living by that premise now."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he favors efforts to improve federal management and suggested that Defense will gain trust by consistently rewarding good job performance. "You can't say here is the carrot and not give the carrot," he said.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) urged the department to reconsider a proposal that would give managers the leeway to counsel employees on their job performance without keeping a written record. If performance evaluations are in writing, Pryor said, the department will be able to ensure consistent treatment of employees and more easily settle disputes.
Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and George Nesterczuk, a senior adviser at the Office of Personnel Management, testified that the NSPS will balance the interests of national security and employees.
Abell said the department has asked federal mediators to assist in the upcoming talks with unions. He told Voinovich that the department is committed to training employees and managers on their rights and responsibilities under NSPS. He assured Pryor that the department would require written records of employee performance evaluations.
The department's meetings with the labor coalition could be critical to a successful rollout of the initial stages of the NSPS this summer, David M. Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office, told Voinovich's subcommittee.
"There are many, many details that have not been defined," Walker said. "The details matter."


Congress, employees still await details of Defense personnel system
By David McGlinchey
[email protected]
Senators, union representatives and outside experts pressed Defense Department officials during a hearing Tuesday for more details on the controversial new National Security Personnel System.
Defense personnel officials said details will emerge during the upcoming meet and confer period, during which union officials will share their concerns with agency negotiators. The concerns were raised during a hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia.
In 2003, lawmakers gave the Pentagon permission to dramatically overhaul its personnel system to respond to national security threats. Early this year, defense officials released preliminary regulations indicating the agency wants to scrap the General Schedule system, implement performance pay, reduce union bargaining powers and streamline the employee appeals process.
A coalition of Defense unions has filed suit to stop the new system, claiming personnel officials ignored a congressional mandate to include union representatives in the development of NSPS.
"There are many details that have not been defined," said David M. Walker, comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office. "Details are important."
Specifically, Walker said he was interested in more information on performance management, compensation and reductions in force.
Union and Defense officials are poised to enter a meet and confer period to explore reaction to the proposed regulations. Charles Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said that many questions will be answered during that period.
"This is where the details that so many long for will be revealed," Abell said. "It would be unnatural if they were not concerned or anxious; we will address those concerns."
Subcommittee Chairman George Voinovich, R-Ohio, sought more details on funding that will be allocated to training managers and supervisors in how to use the new performance pay system. A number of experts have told Congress that the success of NSPS rests on the training that is provided for the transition. Abell said, however, that training for NSPS has not been isolated as a separate line item in the fiscal 2006 budget request.
"It is difficult to look at the budget and see the training in there," Abell said.
"I would like to see in writing what you have in mind," he told Abell.
An array of Democratic senators and union representatives also decried the lack of details on the new system.
"I agree that the devil is in the details," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. "NSPS lacks details."

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