Beeville wins aircraft firm, 300 jobs Helicopter work will take place at ex-Navy base

Kay will occupy two hangars at Chase Field Industrial Park, formerly Naval Air Station Chase Field. The base was closed during the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure round and shut its gates in 1993.
"This is huge for the area," said Laura Fischer, president of the authority. "We have been trying to get aviation to Beeville since the base closed. We're expecting initial work to begin in the next couple of months. Kay should be fully operational by mid-summer."
Kay has a contract with the Department of Defense to repair helicopters and has a one-year lease with four one-year options, Fischer said. The authority anticipates an average employee salary of $40,000 and an annual payroll of $12 million, she said.
Reached in Chicago on Friday, company vice president Brad Kay said the company was having a lease signing but he would not offer further details, saying the company awaits a news release from the Army, one of its clients.
According to its Web site, Kay provides organizational, intermediate and depot-level repair on an extensive range of platforms, which includes Army helicopters.
A union official at Corpus Christi Army Depot, a helicopter repair facility among the area's largest employers, said workers there aren't sure whether the depot will face competition from the Beeville facility.
Joe Gonzales, president of the local chapter of American Federation of Government Employees, said he did not know if the helicopters would be the same as are repaired by the Corpus Christi Army Depot.
"It does concern us as a union because it's work that might be done at the depot," Gonzalez said. "We've made an inquiry in order to learn more about the company, the helicopters and possible effect on the depot."
The Beeville authority has spent almost $3 million repairing the hangars and runways in the past six months, Fischer said. One hangar is near completion and the second hangar should be completed by summer, she added.
Beeville Mayor Kenneth Chesshir said the effort has been worth it.
"We've had a lot of foul balls and this is the first time we've hit a home run," Chesshir said. "The number of jobs is huge for this area."

Waco VA treatment unit to re-open, calming supporters

By Dan Genz Tribune-Herald staff writer
Friday, December 30, 2005
Waco Veterans Affairs Hospital officials are re-opening a treatment facility they vacated in September to make room for Louisiana veterans displaced by Hurricane Rita.
The patients and employees of the unit initially expected to return in November, when 32 Rita evacuees receiving treatment returned home to Lake Charles, La. However, VA officials saw no immediate demand for the 30 long-term treatment beds, and opted to temporarily close the unit in November.
About 30 employees and 30 patients were transferred to other units at the Waco hospital or the Olin E. Teague Memorial Veterans Medical Center in Temple.
"We always said when demand increased we would open the unit back up," said VA spokeswoman Liz Crossan. "Demand is up, and we're ready to use it again."
The unit is slated to resume operations Jan. 23.
The news quiets concerns from local hospital supporters that the patients and employees would leave the unit for good.
"I was very, very suspicious that (the reopening) would not happen. I was concerned that it was the beginning of the end," said Fredna White, president of the local American Federation of Government Employees.
She said the 16 employees who were temporarily transferred were "elated" at the news. "I'm absolutely just thrilled about it," she said.
The intense reaction was due to the hospital's uncertain fate, said Bill Mahon, leader of the McLennan County Veterans Association. “Supposedly, we were all overreacting ... and maybe we did,” Mahon said.
The Waco VA Hospital was slated for closure in 2003 and is now being considered for possible downsizing, or even expansion, as part of a national review of 18 hospitals.
"But overreacting is the whole VA thing," Mahon said. "If we hadn't overreacted years ago, they probably would have closed the hospital by now."
Crossan said she understood the concerns by veterans and employees. She said re-opening the unit is the VA "keeping our promise."
[email protected]

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
MAINE COMPASS: Roger Lessard

Budget cheats veterans

The Maine congressional delegation should be praised for its efforts to help the Department of Veterans Affairs and Togus. However, when one reads the continued statements of Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson, we quickly understand the formidable task they face.
We share the recent concerns stated by both Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud. Nicholson, a political appointee of President Bush, recently made a statement that this year's budget shows an increase; but when reality sets in, the truth comes out. This year's budget is in all reality a decrease after one gets by the smoke screen put up by Nicholson. The budget on paper is like the shell game seen on the streets of New York City, when no one can find the pea, never mind the actual increase. Veteran organizations nationwide are searching hard of the illustrious pea.
The VA claims the budget is $22.5 billion, a 17 percent increase over last year. However, $1.5 billion is supposed to be a carryover from last year's emergency funding which was given to the VA after a year of hearing there is no deficit. Now no one can find the supposed $1.5 billion. Also included is $1.2 billion in emergency funding being held in abeyance, to be released only by the president. That means the actual working budget has become $19.8 billion, which is an increase of only 2.6 percent over last year.
When you consider the estimated 5 percent rate of inflation on medical expenses and the current 3.1 percent raise for federal workers (which is never accounted for in the budget accounting), you suddenly have a deficit.
If you have followed the pea, you can understand how a smoke screen works.
American Federation of Government Employees Local 2610, among others, wishes to know where the money is. Togus has a multitude of issues, including nursing burnout due to continual mandatory overtime, a lack of physicians to see all the patients, inadequate maintenance staff to do all the repairs and continual construction work within the hospital and a shortage of clerical staff to help the rising number of veterans coming to Togus to sign up for benefits.
We have more veterans using the VA due to greater unemployment rates and health care costs. Pharmacy costs rise due to greater prescription requests. We are fighting a war in Iraq and have soldiers stationed in Kuwait and Afghanistan. The numbers of veterans returning from these hot spots increases daily, with more than 100,000 of them seeking help from the VA nationwide.
The VA has been pushing an increase in community health clinics, including Lincoln and Lewiston-Auburn, yet is seeking to decrease the number of VA employees. We are constantly paying outsourcing fees, overtime costs and agency personnel at a far greater cost than local employment. The VA cannot continue to provide a budget with a decrease and expect to maintain buildings, treat more patients and provide total care for our veterans.
Do not believe that this year's budget will provide our veterans the care they were promised when they enlisted, either yesterday or yesteryear.
AFGE Local 2610 is extremely proud of the staff at the Togus VA. Despite this situation, let it be known that the Togus staff perseveres and provides the care our veterans deserve.
Roger Lessard is president of Local 2610 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The Federal Service Impasses Panel reached a decision in a case between a union and the United States Air Force, but the decision was not to decide.

FSIP ruled it did not have jurisdiction to rule on arguments made in Local 2924, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, v. Department of the Air Force, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tuscon, Arizona, citing a lack of precedent.

“Given the uncertainty as to whether the union’s proposal interferes with management’s right to act unilaterally in this matter, as the employer contends, we are reluctant to issue an order addressing the merits of the dispute until a decision regarding the negotiability of the union’s proposal has been rendered in the appropriate forum,” the panel wrote in issuing its ruling.

Officials at Davis-Monthan’s Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center added to its “Foreign Object Damage and Dropped Object Prevention Program” rules four provisions:

? Cell phones can not be used while driving any vehicle on AMARC

? Personnel are prohibited from using cell phones while performing any type of aircraft maintenance operation

? Cell phones can not be used in the production areas around active maintenance or at any time around flammable liquid or fumes, cartridge-activated devices, propellant-activated devices or any component to include ejection seats

? Cell phones will be stored in personal lockers or tool kits’ personal drawers while not in use

AMARC argued that it had no duty to bargain over the provisions, stating that its bargaining obligations extended to only “proposals from the union that address the impact and implementation of management’s decision to include the provisions in the local supplement on affected employees’ conditions of employment.”

AFGE argued that the provisions were eligible for bargaining because “the union has a right to bargain over the substance of the changes, as the affected employees’ working conditions, or because it is an appropriate arrangement for employees adversely affected by the exercise of a management right.”

The union also argued against each provision specifically, stating that prohibition against cell phones while driving conflicted with an existing base policy that permitted use of hands-free cell phone equipment while driving and that since AMARC presented no evidence of damage caused by a cell phone, the provisions were unnecessary.
Defense spending bill renews job competition restrictions
By Jenny Mandel
[email protected]
The Senate late Wednesday approved the fiscal 2006 Defense spending bill, which once again contains requirements to protect federal employees in formal competitive sourcing studies run using rules in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.
The Senate stripped the bill (H.R. 2863) of language allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and returned it to the House, which is expected to pass it before the holiday recess. It includes two major provisions that affect agency efforts to put federal jobs up for competition with contractors.
In language first introduced in last year's spending bill, the legislation would bar the Pentagon from allowing contractors to gain a cost advantage by proposing to contribute less toward employee health benefits than the share paid by the Defense Department for federal employees' benefits.
When the health-care provisions were first included in last year's appropriations bill, Congress requested a GAO study on the impact of the requirements. That study, released earlier this month, found that there was no significant effect on Defense competition outcomes and that the requirements presented no undue burden.
The bill also would require agencies to let in-house employees form a team and defend their jobs against outside bidders any time more than 10 positions are at stake. In those contests, federal employee teams are to be granted a cost advantage amounting to either 10 percent of personnel-related costs or $10 million--whichever is lower.
These requirements for competitions with more than 10 employees align with ones placed on most other federal agencies under the fiscal 2006 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill, which President Bush signed on Nov. 30. Unless the Defense language is changed before the bill is signed into law, the Transportation Security Administration's screening programs will retain one of the few exemptions to these rules.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, commended inclusion of the health measures in the final Defense bill, noting in a statement that amendments had been proposed earlier in the year to strike them.
"Because DoD contracts out by far the most federal work to private companies, it is especially critical that these provisions be applied to DoD," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
According to Defense, the A-76 provisions included in the legislation don't present a problem. "We've been requiring MEOs [most efficient organizations, or in-house teams] to convert from government to contractor if you have more than 10 employees for a long time," said Annie Andrews, assistant director for DoD competitive sourcing. "I'm not aware of anything that's going to create any problems for DoD."
But Chris Jahn, president of the Contract Services Association of America, a group representing government contractors, said such language hurts the competitive sourcing initiative. "Congressional micromanagement of the outsourcing system has really brought it to a halt, which was really the goal of public employees and their allies in Congress," he said.
Jahn cited figures indicating that governmentwide, federal employees win public-private competitions more than 90 percent of the time, as evidence that the competitive sourcing effort "has come to a screeching halt."

Power, Money, National Security, and Federal Employees
December 22, 2005
By Ralph Smith

Organizations such as the FBI, CIA, NSA and the Transportation Security Agency are vital to our national security. Congress has been consistent in recognizing that national security is not consistent with federal labor laws requiring an agency to negotiate with unions representing federal employees.

But, since unions were already representing employees in the agencies that were combined into Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the prohibition against unions doesn’t apply. Congress and the Administration may want to rethink the approach if we are serious about protecting the country.

An article earlier this week in the Washington Post referred to the “Sorry State of Problem-Solving” at CBP.

The agency and the union have, as the Post article points out, been continuously sparring before arbitrators and the FLRA on overtime and shift assignments for the past several years. In effect, the agency apparently concluded that "co-management" as envisioned by the partnership approach advocated during the Clinton administration was not working well. The agency began to assert its power to make decisions on shift and overtime assignments within the agency.

What the article does not mention is that NTEU has filed hundreds of grievances on the issue. Some of these have gone to arbitration, some to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) and some will be reviewed by one court or another. The union has ultimately lost in these cases. A new decision by an arbitrator is contrary to numerous decisions on the issue and apparently found in favor of the union.

This recent case involves a decision by a well-known arbitrator. This same arbitrator previously issued a decision in another case on the same type of issue. That decision was overturned by the FLRA.

No doubt, the agency will also appeal this new decision and, based on numerous decisions on this issue, the agency is likely to again prevail.

Most of us would agree that there should be a way to resolve disputes effectively in government. Congress previously reached the same conclusion and set up the arbitration process as an effective way to do this. But there is nothing in the law to stop a union from filing hundreds of grievances on the same issue and seeking vindication in the press when it finally gets one to go its way.

The agency argues that requiring bargaining each time a shift change is made will create a situation that harms our national security. Anyone involved with labor negotiations in the federal sector knows that bargaining on relatively simple issues can take weeks, months or years.

And, perhaps more importantly, there is an upcoming union election. Some employees in the agency will choose between selecting NTEU or AFGE as their exclusive representative. For some, the financial and organizational self-interest of winning the upcoming election probably takes precedence over other issues or concerns.

In effect, while the union wants to secure its “rights” through continuous litigations, most Americans would prefer a more secure border. Most of us don’t care who wins the election. Most Americans certainly don’t know (and won’t know from reading the Post article) that the union has filed hundreds of grievances on the same issue and has lost consistently.

One conclusion can be reached from this “sorry state of affairs.” The existing labor relations statute has not been effective in resolving disputes or preventing abuse of the system. The decision of Congress to radically change the labor relations program in Homeland Security and the Department of Defense certainly doesn’t sit well as unions will lose power and money under a revamped system. No doubt, some employees will also make less money with the agency making the decisions on overtime assignments.

But changing the system is probably necessary to make all of us safer and more secure.

It Could Be Auld Lang Syne For Annual Pay Raises
By Stephen Barr
Sunday, January 1, 2006; C02
The annual pay raise for most federal employees will go into effect Jan. 8 -- a great way to start the New Year. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Washington-Baltimore area federal employees paid under the General Schedule will receive a 3.44 percent salary increase this year. GS salaries in the Washington region will range from $19,214 to $139,774, according to pay tables posted by the Office of Personnel Management.
The average annual salary for Washington-area GS employees will rise to $80,425, and the average worldwide for GS employees will be $63,125, said Donald J. Winstead , OPM's deputy associate director for pay and performance policy.
But this annual ritual -- a predictable pay increase provided by the Congress -- may soon fade if the Bush administration has its way.
The departments of Defense and Homeland Security, which account for almost half of the federal workforce, are within a year or two of launching performance-based pay systems. The administration has drafted a bill that would abolish the General Schedule, which currently covers about 1.8 million federal employees, by 2010.
The push to expand performance-based pay across government rubs up against a long-held belief by many federal employees that the annual raise is a cost-of-living adjustment or an inflation-protection adjustment. The pay raise is not a COLA, but it's easy to see how this perception has emerged.
Every year, the president's advisers look at the rate of growth in private-sector wages, as measured by the Labor Department's Employment Cost Index, and come up with a budget proposal. This year, President Bush's budget recommended a 2.3 percent raise for the civil service and a 3.1 percent raise for the military.
As in past years, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and other members of Congress urged a "pay parity" increase so that civilian and military personnel receive similar raises. Parity usually prevails, and this year it received a green light from two key House Appropriations Committee leaders, Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.).
The civil service pay raise is part of a large spending bill for three Cabinet agencies and some smaller agencies, making it difficult for the White House to resist. Last month, Bush signed an executive order that triggered publication of the 2006 pay tables. The tables reflect the recommendation of Congress: a raise that averaged 3.1 percent across the GS workforce.
But the practice of an across-the-board increase and a pay supplement that varies by locality will become more complicated in future years under the administration's plans. (Federal unions have filed lawsuits to protest curbs on their bargaining rights; it's unclear what the suits mean for the new pay system, although court actions could delay its start.)
At Defense, employees covered by the National Security Personnel System will not automatically receive a raise each January. Nor will those at Homeland Security.
Instead, that money will be used to adjust the minimum and maximum rates in a "pay band," based on the consolidation of two or more GS grades. Raises will go to employees deemed to be performing their jobs in an acceptable fashion; an unsatisfactory rating will mean no raise. Larger raises will go to employees who score high on job ratings.
The new pay systems will give managers more discretion in setting pay and will hinge on employees showing that they are hard workers. Raises also will reflect differences among occupations and geographic locations.
Although details are being worked out, the departments may consider mission requirements, labor-market conditions, availability of funds, pay raises at other federal agencies and other factors when determining the size of annual raises.
Some employees also will find that they are getting bonuses, which do not count toward retirement credits, rather than raises under the new systems. That likely will occur when the top of pay bands do not expand.
This time last year, for example, about 2,400 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration, a pioneer in performance-based pay, received all or a portion of their compensation increase as a lump-sum payment.
Pentagon postpones training on personnel system
By Karen Rutzick
[email protected]
Personnel reform at the Defense Department hit another bump last week when officials halted training on the new pay-for-performance system to allow more time to evaluate it and make changes.
In a Dec. 23 letter, a National Security Personnel System official told program managers to stop all content-specific NSPS training for January at least.
"We need more time to focus on simplifying the performance management design, getting performance objectives right, and ensuring the system is simple, clear and understandable," wrote Mary Lacey, program executive officer for NSPS.
The regulations governing the system restrict union bargaining rights, eliminate the decades-old General Schedule in favor of broad paybands and require pay raises to be based on rigorous performance evaluations.
A group of 10 unions filed a lawsuit soon after the regulations were published. That lawsuit focuses on union rights, rather than human resources. The two sides had agreed that the department could continue training its employees on NSPS in the run-up to court proceedings.
Lacey did not provide a specific reason for this latest delay. In preparing for the transition to the new system, the department "received much feedback ... that [led] us to conclude" more time was necessary, she wrote. A spokeswoman for the NSPS said she could not give any further details.
Information about any NSPS design changes will come in early January, Lacey said.
"We want to ensure that our employees, supervisors and leaders fully understand this system and have the tools to succeed in a results-focused, performance-based environment," she wrote.
Lacey encouraged program managers to continue training on soft skills such as communicating with employees about the changes. Earlier this month, the Air Force announced that it had awarded a $24.8 million contract to Centre Consulting of Vienna, Va., to help managers improve those skills.

Bush tackles U.S. border control puzzle
By Nicole Gaouette
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - After decades of government failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration, the Bush administration and congressional Republicans are putting forward ambitious enforcement programs they say will finally lead to effective control over the nation's borders.
To achieve that long-sought goal, they are counting on adding hundreds of new Border Patrol and other immigration agents, who would be aided by new technology, such as infrared cameras, sensors that distinguish between humans and animals, and a new surveillance drone that can tell whether a furtive figure has a gun or just a pack of cigarettes.
Also proposed: accelerated processing of detainees, expanded holding facilities and some new carrots and sticks to persuade employers not to hire illegal immigrants.
Similar grand designs were unveiled in 1986, 1994 and 1996. All ended in failure. So why would the new initiatives fare any better?
Some supporters argue that the new resources would give the enforcement effort critical mass: enough resources to end the pattern of cracking down in one place, only to see the flow of illegal immigrants move elsewhere.
Also, some Republicans are making enforcement a condition for considering other facets of reform, including the Bush administration's proposed guest-worker program to give more immigrants some kind of legal status. Faced with congressional intransigence, the administration has decided to put enforcement first, even though top officials say it cannot succeed without a guest-worker system.
The likelihood of this drive succeeding already is viewed with skepticism, especially among officials in border communities. Some welcome the promises of new aid, but say they do not see how this effort is going to fare better than its predecessors.
``Everything is about the border, about controlling the border, but that will never happen. It's a myopic view,'' Ray Borane, mayor of Douglas, Ariz., said of Washington's immigration reform efforts. ``The border is only . . . one piece of the puzzle. Washington also has to focus on where'' immigrants ``are going and what they're doing when they get there.''
What the vast majority are doing is feeding the U.S. economy's seemingly insatiable appetite for immigrant workers. They are so vital to the economy that sending them home in a giant law enforcement crackdown is unthinkable, as well as impossible, government officials and outside experts say.
Nonetheless, the administration and Congress are pressing ahead on enforcement.
Near the top of many of the proposals is investment in infrastructure designed to make it harder for immigrants to bypass border checkpoints.
In the House, a newly passed immigration bill requires fencing, including lights and cameras, at certain points along the border. Already, extensive wall and fence systems have been erected in parts of California and Texas.
Chris Bauder, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, which represents San Diego agents, says his city's experience shows walls do not work. The fence in San Diego ``just pushed that traffic elsewhere, and that's what a 2,000-mile fence will do: push it to ports of entry, to the coast, to the Canadian border, where we don't have anything.''
``They're treating the symptoms, not the root cause,'' he said -- the U.S. jobs magnet.
The House bill mandates other infrastructure such as checkpoints and all-weather roads, while the administration's plans include vehicle barriers and stadium lighting, plus expanded detention facilities so that non-Mexicans can be held and sent home rather than simply released.
Officials such as Ron Colburn, chief border agent in Arizona's Yuma sector, welcome the technology. His station, among the county's busiest, will soon get ground-sensing radar, more infrared and daylight cameras, and digital wireless communications, which he is particularly excited about. Today, border agents often have to use personal cell phones to communicate from remote areas.
Colburn already is using the new Predator B pilotless aircraft.
``I was a skeptic, but now I'm sold,'' he said of the technology.
Others offer caveats. ``The one drone is $14 million,'' T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said of the Predator. ``That's a lot of money for one eye in the sky. . . . Piloted aircraft are more effective.''
Yuma County Sheriff Ralph E. Ogden, whose area in Arizona borders two Mexican states and California, has a more basic concern. ``Technology can show you a picture of someone,'' he said, ``but someone still has to go out to get them. It's a great supplement, but no replacement for real people.''
Congress has agreed to funding for an additional 1,700 border agents this year, for a total of at least 11,000. Originally, President Bush's 2006 budget had only allowed for an extra 210 agents.
The House legislation would require the military and the Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan to use more military surveillance equipment along the border.
The House measure also would allow local sheriffs within 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border to detain illegal immigrants and transfer them to federal authorities in the routine course of duty. Tony Estrada, sheriff of Arizona's Santa Cruz County, which shares 50 miles of border with Mexico, says his department does not have the time.
``I do not want to be doing immigration work, and I don't want my people to do it,'' he said. ``We don't have the resources.''
Whatever new resources are deployed along the border, most experts agree that achieving control requires more effective enforcement in the interior of the country. Some say mandatory employee verification and increased penalties on employers who hire illegally, as required in the House legislation, is the only way to stem the tide.
They point out that this has never seriously been tried, though employer enforcement was part of a 1986 law. In fiscal 2004, the Department of Homeland Security issued just three notices of intent to fine employers. None was fined. This past year, the administration targeted one employer, Wal-Mart, which it described as a repeat offender.
Bauder argued that if employers were robustly targeted, illegal immigrants would leave, word of mouth would trickle back to Mexico and fewer immigrants would try to come.
But absent a guest-worker program, many said pressure from business would probably counter any move toward truly effective internal enforcement.
``Every commission that studied this came to the same conclusion: That you have to eliminate the jobs magnet if you want to eliminate illegal immigration,'' Bonner said.

Hunter argues for border fencing
Addition may cost about $2.1 billion
By Leslie Berestein
December 30, 2005
A local Republican congressman who is calling for additional fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border took his cause to the border fence near Otay Mesa yesterday.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, added an amendment calling for nearly 700 miles of additional fencing in four states to a sweeping immigration bill that passed 239-182 in the House of Representatives on Dec. 16. Last month, he introduced his own legislation calling for a 2,000-mile fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
"The border is not simply an immigration issue, and it is not simply a drug issue," Hunter said yesterday, citing terrorism concerns. "It is a security issue."
Hunter's amendment to the recent House bill, introduced with four other representatives, calls for 22 miles of fencing east and west of the Tecate port of entry. It also calls for 361 miles of fencing between the ports of entry at Calexico and Douglas, Ariz.; 88 miles between Columbus, N.M., and El Paso, Texas, and 176 miles between Laredo and Brownsville in Texas.
Hunter yesterday estimated that the 647 miles of fencing would cost more than $3 million a mile, or around $2.1 billion.
In response to questions about smugglers who might alternate routes around the fencing, as they do in parts of San Diego County, Hunter said the additional barriers would act as a force multiplier for Border Patrol agents to patrol surrounding areas.
"It maximizes the Border Patrol's capability," he said.
Hunter's fencing plan is not favored by the union that represents Border Patrol agents, however. According to T.J. Bonner, the San Diego-based president of the National Border Patrol Council, more fencing is a stopgap solution.
"Nothing you do is going to discourage people from coming across unless you stop them from getting what they are coming across for," said Bonner, a proponent of stronger sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers.
Several immigrant-rights advocates, who oppose the fence plan, attended Hunter's news conference yesterday. Afterward, Christian Ramirez of the American Friends Service Committee, a human rights group affiliated with the Quakers, said he thought additional fencing would cause more border-crossing deaths in remote areas.
"This was supposed to stop the illegal immigration flow," said Ramirez, pointing to the nearby metal mesh fence. "It's only been successful in killing people."
At least 3,600 people have died crossing the border illegally since early 1995, after strict enforcement was introduced south of San Diego and human smuggling traffic moved east, often into harsh desert terrain.
Hunter said his amendment includes installing a camera surveillance system between Calexico and Douglas by the end of May, which he believes would help reduce the number of deaths along the most dangerous stretches.
The House bill still needs to be approved in the Senate. Hunter said he still plans to pursue his goal of fencing off the entire border as he proposed in November, which he estimates would cost $6 billion.
Feds retooling failed disaster response plan
January 1, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Before the next big hurricane howls ashore, Homeland Security officials want an emergency communications network operating, emergency medical facilities treating patients, and teams dispatched to search for victims at the likely ground zero.
In the wake of congressional hearings that exposed the breathtaking failures of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration is retooling its disaster plan to react more quickly to the next catastrophe.
Michael Brown, now the ex-chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, became the public face of Katrina's failure. But the administration is reviewing how other leaders also failed last August to execute a playbook approved just eight months earlier to handle such a disaster.
For example, Brown's boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, did not invoke special powers in the National Response Plan to rush federal aid to New Orleans when state and local officials said they were swamped.
The department rejected the authority, concluding it should be used only for sudden catastrophic events that offer no time for preparation, not for slow-approaching hurricanes.
That will not happen next time, said officials who described some of the changes in the administration's evolving disaster response plan.
''There has to be a way to apply federal resources when state and local resources are overwhelmed,'' said Joel Bagnal, a special assistant to the president for homeland security who is involved in the administration's lessons-learned review.
Ideas for rushing in resources
Chief among the changes to the original 426-page plan are several ideas for rushing federal resources to a stricken area. They include:
*Dropping small military or civilian vehicles, packed with communications gear, into a disaster zone by helicopter or driving them from nearby staging areas.
*Setting up portable hospitals with federal emergency medical teams to augment local facilities.
*Helping local and state police catch looters and snipers by providing federal law enforcement officers, if requested.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Friday the revamped National Response Plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks after meetings with hundreds of federal, state and government officials and individuals outside government.
Leo Bosner, the union representative for FEMA headquarters workers, worries about how well the agency will respond next time. FEMA reacted quickly to big disasters when it operated independently, he said, but fell short in its first big test as a member of the Homeland Security Department.
''You broke your toy, and now it doesn't work,'' said Bosner, himself a veteran FEMA disaster specialist.

What next?
Bush administration maps changes for response to the next Katrina
WASHINGTON - Before the next big hurricane's winds howl ashore, Homeland Security officials want an emergency communications network operating, emergency medical facilities treating patients, and teams dispatched to search for victims at the likely ground zero.
In the wake of congressional hearings that exposed the breathtaking failures of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration is retooling its disaster plan to react more quickly to the next catastrophe.
Michael Brown, now the ex-chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, became the public face of Katrina's failure. But the administration is reviewing how other leaders also failed last August to execute a playbook approved just eight months earlier to handle such a disaster.
For example, Brown's boss - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff - did not invoke special powers in the National Response Plan that would have rushed federal aid to New Orleans when state and local officials said they were swamped.
The department rejected the authority, concluding that it should be invoked only for sudden catastrophic events that offer no time for preparation and not for slow-approaching hurricanes.
That will not happen next time, according to officials who described to The Associated Press some of the changes in the administration's evolving disaster response plan.
"There has to be a way to apply federal resources when state and local resources are overwhelmed," said Joel Bagnal, a special assistant to the president for homeland security who is involved in the administration's lessons-learned review.
Chief among the changes to the original 426-page plan are several ideas for rushing federal resources to a stricken area. They include:
• Dropping small military or civilian vehicles, packed with communications gear, into a disaster zone by helicopter or driving them from nearby staging areas.
• Setting up portable hospitals with federal emergency medical teams to augment local facilities.
• Helping local and state police catch looters and snipers by providing federal law enforcement officers if requested.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Friday that the revamped National Response Plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks after meetings with hundreds of federal, state and government officials and individuals outside the government.
The union representative for FEMA headquarters workers worries about how well the agency will respond next time. FEMA reacted quickly to big disasters when it operated independently, he said, but fell short in its first big test as a member of the massive Homeland Security Department.
"You broke your toy and now it doesn't work," said Leo Bosner, himself a veteran FEMA disaster specialist.
Those on the front lines hope to have a unified philosophy that values flexibility and quick thinking to adapt solutions to a rapidly unfolding human disaster.
"When you have a disaster, nothing goes by any kind of plan," said Dr. Arthur Wallace, leader of the Oklahoma 1 FEMA medical team that was dispatched from its staging area too late to beat Katrina to New Orleans.
The administration officials and responders interviewed by the AP offered a few of their own horror stories that they do not want repeated. They also help illustrate changes in the evolving plan.
Medical care late
Dr. Wallace's 34-member medical team from Oklahoma left its Houston staging area Aug. 28 after receiving a request from Louisiana officials to head for the Superdome.
Katrina made landfall in Louisiana just after 6 a.m. on Aug. 29, but the team did not arrive until that night. It did not receive its first patients until dawn on Aug. 30.
That was 36 hours after FEMA began reporting grave medical problems in the stadium, such as 400 people with special needs, 45 to 50 patients in need of hospitalization, and a dwindling supply of oxygen.
Wallace's team made it only as far as Baton Rouge the night before the storm came ashore because wind gusts had already made it impossible to reach the Superdome. The sick evacuees had to wait.
"The winds were buffeting the trucks pretty bad" when the team halted in the state capital, Wallace recalled.
In the future, the administration wants medical teams in position before the storm strikes.
Communications spotty
U.S. military communications with Louisiana and Mississippi officials were so poor that commanders were forced to use couriers to transmit messages, said Paul McHale, the assistant defense secretary for homeland defense.
FEMA's "Red October" mobile command center rode out the storm at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., six hours from New Orleans. The oversize trailer can establish communications in a stricken area and serve as the nerve center for directing emergency relief. But it did not arrive in the city until several days after Katrina had struck.
Bagnal said the administration wants to replace the "clunky" FEMA vehicles with smaller ones that could be kept nearby and either driven or flown to where they are needed.
The lack of equipment was not the only problem. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it took 10 to 12 days before a fully staffed, multi-agency field office for coordinating the response was operating at Katrina's ground zero. Even then, she said, the staff was thrown together with responders who hadn't worked with each other.
"Going forward, we definitely need a more capable, rapidly deployed and experienced staff that works together on a routine basis - in noncrisis situations as well as catastrophic incidents," Perino said.
Speed up deployment
For several days, thousands of people at the New Orleans convention center had no food, water or medical help. National Guard forces were preoccupied with rooftop rescues and lacked the manpower to feed or assist hungry refugees.
"Every single resource we had from Tuesday (Aug. 30) through Thursday (Sept. 1) was committed to picking people off of rooftops and saving people," recalled Louisiana National Guard Lt. Col. Jacques Thibodeaux, a deputy U.S. marshal in civilian life.
It wasn't until Friday, Sept. 2, that Thibodeaux was told to lead a rescue mission to the convention center. He cobbled together a force of 1,000 from diverse units representing five states.
"We took 30 minutes to secure the area. In three hours we began feeding people. In 30 hours, we had evacuated 19,000," Thibodeaux said.
The first active duty soldiers did not reach New Orleans until he evening of Sept. 3.
The U.S. Northern Command, in Colorado Springs, Colo., had been tracking Katrina before the storm made landfall and could have tapped active duty assets. But the lone request the command received from federal officials during Katrina's first day was for six helicopters, spokesman Michael Kucharek said.
The White House is pressing Congress to establish the exact circumstances and legal authority that would determine when the active military should take over a disaster.
Nothing left to loot
The 18-member, Dallas-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special response team had the very skills needed to cope with looters and snipers, but its members did not arrive in New Orleans until Sept. 2.
"By the time we got here, it wasn't as bad as the first nights after the storm," team leader Charles Smith said.
The team was trained in serving arrest warrants and executing search warrants, hostage situations, rescues, and riot and crowd control. And Smith brought an additional asset - he was raised and once stationed in New Orleans.
The team showed its capabilities two nights after arriving when gunshots were reported in a neighborhood. Smith dispatched agents with night-vision goggles and, as a helicopter appeared overhead, the team observed a shooter in a four-unit housing project. Smith personally talked two men out of the building and arrested one without firing a shot.
In the future, the administration wants such teams ready to move as soon as local law enforcement needs assistance.
More public information
Before Katrina struck, FEMA had dispatched a sizable public affairs contingent to Louisiana. Their mission, according to the National Response Plan, was "to coordinate a message," said Jeff Karonis, a Homeland Security public affairs specialist.
"Several were experienced communicators in hurricanes of the past. They know what the issues are," he said.
But the messages to the public often were confusing, leaving vital questions unanswered. When would buses rescue people from the Superdome? When would rescuers arrive at the convention center? Was crime rampant?
Russ Knocke, the chief spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said the specialists were hampered by "a significant amount of inaccurate reporting" that "added confusion and added fuel to the fire."
Louisiana officials said the federal experts didn't coordinate with them. "I don't think there was ever a meeting about message. It wasn't a partnership," said Denise Bottcher, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's spokeswoman.
In the future, Knocke said, Homeland Security is "deeply committed to working and communicating with state and local officials."

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