Posted: January 05, 2005 7:24 AM EST
Washington (AP) - The D.C. Department of Employment Services issued pink slips to 40 of its employees this week.
The Washington Post reports the layoffs come as a result of a decrease in funding from the federal government who paid for the programs for which they worked.
An agency spokeswoman says they're adjusting the staffing to fit the budget. Diana Johnson says the agency's budget this year is $24 million - down from $39 million in 2003.
A spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees says they could not has picked a worse time - right after the holidays. James Seawright says he plans to send a letter to Mayor Williams and the D.C. Council asking for details about how the city determined which employees would be terminated.
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page B03
Opening of Rebuilt School Is Celebrated
D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey joined city officials, parents, students and others yesterday to celebrate the opening of Patterson Elementary School.
The school, in the 4300 block of South Capitol Terrace SW, was rebuilt, replacing a 60-year-old structure that had deteriorated. During the construction, the school's nearly 300 students attended classes for three years at nearby Patricia R. Harris Education Center. They moved into their new school in November.
Joining Janey for the ribbon-cutting were Board of Education member William Lockridge (District 4) and officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the construction.
Patterson was one of five of the 150 operating school buildings in the D.C. school system that began classes this fall after major renovations or new construction. The others were Noyes and Cleveland elementary schools, Kelly Miller Middle School and McKinley Technology High School.
The D.C. Department of Employment Services issued pink slips this week to 40 employees who work for training and employment programs funded by the federal government, which has reduced the city's funding by more than $12 million over two years, a spokeswoman said.
Spokeswoman Diana Johnson said the workers are employed in one-stop centers, dislocated worker programs and youth employment programs. The jobs are funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Labor. The programs will continue, though the staffs will be smaller, she said. The agency employs 541 workers.
"We're really adjusting the staffing to fit the budget," Johnson said, adding that the agency's budget this year is $24 million, down from $39 million in 2003.
James Seawright, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1000, said 36 of the workers are union members. He plans to write a letter to the mayor and D.C. Council asking for details about how the city determined which employees would be terminated. The union was aware that the agency was considering a reduction in force but did not know the number of employees that would be affected, he said.
"You could not have worse timing," Seawright said. "It's right after Christmas. Right after Thanksgiving. What do you do? You give them a termination notice."
Under stress, unions hook new members
By Kimberly Palmer
Carl Goldman didn't bother to sugarcoat his message. He told 30 federal employees at a recent meeting that he wasn't going to be able to do a good job representing them if more of them didn't join the union. Only four were members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which had earned the right to represent them.
Fourteen of those assembled joined on the spot. Goldman, the executive director of AFSCME Council 26, said anxiety over job security under the Bush administration helped reel them in. "Federal employees that we deal with are not really sure what will come next," he said.
Goldman's experience mirrors national growth in union membership, despite- - or perhaps because of--looming obstacles ahead. In the coming months, the Defense and Homeland Security departments are expected to announce personnel reforms that may limit collective bargaining and replace traditional pay schedules with performance-based compensation. At the same time, President Bush is pushing agencies to hold more job competitions between federal workers and the private sector.
Under these looming threats to their power, union leaders have signed up new members at meetings and through e-mail solicitation and personal appeals. Between 2001 and 2003, the latest year for which data are available, the number of dues-paying American Federation of Government Employees members increased by almost 3 percent, and National Treasury Employees Union membership went up by 4.5 percent, according to Labor Department records. That's about twice the rate of the growth of the civilian federal workforce.
Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said workers who would not have considered becoming union members in the past are now joining up because they "see what it is they're up against."
"People see the handwriting on the wall," said Michael Gravinese, legislative coordinator for AFGE Local 3509, which represents Social Security Administration employees in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Fear of job loss, he said, has helped drive his local's membership up to 800 from 645 at the end of 2002.
Gravinese called the Bush administration the most anti-union in history. Even though more federal jobs were lost under the Clinton administration, it somehow felt less malicious, he said. During Clinton's second term, the number of federal employees dropped by almost 1 percent, while the Bush administration has seen a 1.5 percent increase in civilian federal employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
In an interview with Government Executive, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it was "ironic" that the Bush administration has witnessed an increase in federal employment. "This administration is hostile to the right of employees to organize," he said, adding that he'd like more federal employees to join unions.
Membership rolls do not appear to be affected by Sen. John Kerry's loss in the November presidential election. NTEU and AFGE officially endorsed Kerry, although about 40 percent of all union members voted for George Bush, according to exit pills.
Security at airports sees slow change
BY JIM LEUSNER AND PEDRO RUZ GUTIERREZ
The Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. - (KRT) - More than three years after four of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers entered the United States through Orlando International Airport, inspectors there have undergone a massive reorganization and their procedures for detecting terrorists have been updated.
Yet, little has changed.
Front-line inspectors for the new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection say they remain understaffed, especially during peak summer-travel periods; they lack firm standards for denying admission to travelers; and they are undertrained - while still being expected to size up a foreign traveler's statement, body language and paperwork in 60 seconds or less.
What's more, the number of would-be visitors who have been denied entry to the United States by inspectors in central Florida - one measure of vigilance - has dropped from a high of 540 in 2001 to 259 last year and 200 during the first 10 months of the past fiscal year.
"The system is entirely overwhelmed," said Steven Camarota, director of research for the nonpartisan Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, about the performance of the bureau. "Things have improved, but there's an enormous mismatch between workload and resources. All the pressure is to admit people."
Camarota and other critics say the 21-month-old reorganization of the inspectors - combining customs, immigration and agricultural inspectors from three agencies into a single entity in the Department of Homeland Security - has done little to solve the system's basic problems.
His comments echo the 9-11 commission, the blue-ribbon panel that investigated the hijackings that sent passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and - during a flight thought headed for the U.S. Capitol or the White House - a field in Pennsylvania. In 2001, commission investigators said, determining who got into the country and who didn't was largely the result of an inspector's "gut" instinct. There were few standards, little training - and an overwhelming emphasis on getting people through quickly.
Orlando, Fla., was a prime example of how arbitrary that system could be. Investigators for the 9-11 commission reported that two would-be hijackers were stopped by inspectors at Orlando International Airport because they spoke little English, listed no local destination and had no return tickets. One was admitted; the other was sent back.
Three years later, screening procedures have changed. Integrated police and intelligence computers match passenger manifests with "watch lists" of suspected terrorists while their planes are still in the air. Virtually every overseas tourist entering the country is digitally photographed and fingerprinted.
CBP inspectors also are conducting more in-depth questioning of men and students from countries in the Middle East and elsewhere where terrorists are active, inspectors said.
But the fundamental nature of the job remains the same.
"This is a monotonous, customer-oriented law-enforcement job," said Janice Kephart, a 9-11 commission lawyer and investigator who interviewed inspectors who dealt with the hijackers. "There is a natural difficulty in enforcing the law by looking at (traveler) behavior, reviewing travel documents, asking questions and listening for answers, checking databases - and doing all of this while smiling - in 45 seconds."
CBP officials say they are making improvements every day while re-engineering an agency with 19,000 inspectors, including 160 assigned to OIA, Orlando Sanford International and the Port Canaveral cruise port.
"I can say unequivocally, we're doing a hell of a better job than before 9-11," said Karl Brown, who supervises central Florida inspectors for the CBP. "Our vigilance is that much more acute."
Getting into America with a tourist visa has never been difficult. More than 1.1 million international passengers flew into Orlando and Sanford in the past year; the recent peak was 1.7 million in 2000. Often, they arrive in jumbo-jet loads of 400 or more.
With hundreds of travelers waiting to begin vacations after long flights, front-line inspections often last a minute or less. It is a system that was - and still can be - beaten, according to several inspectors, who spoke to the Orlando Sentinel on the condition they not be identified.
"If someone wants to come here to cause harm or terrorism, he can," said a 10-year inspector who insisted on anonymity for fear of agency retaliation. "A known terrorist won't make it through, but a (terrorist) with a clean record will."
Most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were not known to U.S. intelligence or border agencies when they entered the country.
"Homeland security looks so good on paper and on TV," one Sanford, Fla., airport inspector said. "But nothing has changed."
Inspectors complain that they have had little training in key subjects such as al-Qaida or fraudulent-document detection. Several said they remain ill-prepared to do one another's jobs, as the CBP tries to combine customs, agriculture and immigration-inspection duties in one class of front-line officers.
"It's all smoke and mirrors," one Port Canaveral inspector said about training.
Brown, however, contends his agency has been "in the training mode" since the agencies merged: cross-training all inspectors, re-schooling some as trainers at the agency's academy and making experienced people temporary supervisors to mentor front-line personnel. All officers also received eight hours of training in how to spot fraudulent documents, he said, and daily briefings were added to share the latest intelligence.
But inspectors said the daily briefings during the summer and fall have focused on etiquette and professionalism - reacting to the more than 1,700 complaints for rude and unprofessional behavior that were filed against officers nationwide from October 2003 to last July, according to CBP documents.
Inspectors say there still are no standards or precise criteria defining what's required to enter the country in terms of money, credit cards and a specific local destination. So inspectors and supervisors still decide case by case.
CBP headquarters spokesman Bill Anthony said inspectors are taught to consider the "totality of circumstances. Therefore, there are no fixed guidelines as to how much money, etc., an applicant should or may have with them at time of entry."
In the mid-1990s, a congressionally mandated "45-minute rule" forced immigration inspectors to quickly process foreign flights - and they were expected to average 45 seconds per visitor. Those pressures contributed to an inspectors' mentality of being travel "facilitators" rather than border police, investigators say.
Congress has since lifted the regulation, and the CBP has changed its standard - to 60 minutes per flight and 60 seconds per passenger - to allow time for digital photographing and fingerprinting of foreign passengers in the so-called US-VISIT program. The CBP says the numbers are "informal parameters" set up to help the agency manage and analyze staffing and traffic patterns at ports nationwide.
But local inspectors say the new standards - just like the old ones - are used to pressure them to keep the lines moving. Current and former inspectors at OIA, Sanford and Port Canaveral said many colleagues "DTR" travelers - pass and send them "down the road" - instead of asking questions and risking a complaint for holding up lines.
"You never get in trouble for banging someone in," said Dan Tarasevich, a CBP senior inspector who retired last year from OIA.
Steve Santiago, a CBP inspector in Sanford and an official with the American Federation of Government Employees/National Homeland Security Council Local 1917, said he is concerned that the agency is sacrificing "quantity versus quality" of travelers screened. He said supervisors routinely ask inspectors, "Why is it taking so long?" to clear a flight.
"The rush to admit persons into the U.S. without full inspections because of `unofficial' time constraints is detrimental to our security as a nation," Santiago said.
Still, inspectors locally refuse entry to far fewer foreigners than they did in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2001. That year, 970,000 foreigners passed through OIA and 540 were sent back - a rate of about 1 per 1,800 visitors. A year later, passenger traffic had dropped by 300,000 - and the rejection rate was 1 per 2,316. The number of passengers and the rejection rate stayed roughly the same in 2003. But through August of this year, passenger traffic rose to 764,000 and only 200 were rejected_a rate of about 1 per 3,800.
"They're clearly less picky on people they're admitting into the country," said Jessica Vaughan, a former State Department consular officer and Center For Immigration Studies analyst. "I would argue the chance of refusing a terrorist is greater if we are refusing more people."
Brown of the CBP said the drop is because of the "pendulum swinging back" from the extreme security after 9-11 to today, when the agency uses more discretion with passengers - and grants more temporary entries nationwide called "paroles" for minor paperwork problems.
"Obviously things tightened up after 9-11," Brown said. "Now we're into discretion within the law. We're at a balance now."
San Bernardino County Sun
Dreier introduces immigration reform
Dreier authors two bills dealing with immigration
By BRENDA GAZZAR
Tuesday, January 04, 2005 - Rep. David Dreier, the Glendora Republican who survived re-election last fall amid accusations he is soft on illegal immigration, introduced two immigration bills Tuesday to bolster the security of Social Security cards and to ease the immigration case backlog in federal courts.
The bills, which were introduced on the first day of the 109th Congress, are "a response to a need for real immigration reform and border security, and a response to what we've heard from our constituents, which is that we need, as (Dreier) says ... common-sense practical solutions to these problems,' said Jo Maney, a spokesman for Dreier, who represents Rancho Cucamonga and Wrightwood.
The first bill would require the Social Security Administration to issue Social Security cards with photos on them, as well as an electronic identification strip for employers to verify the legal status of prospective employees through a national database.
"The idea is to bring Social Security cards into the 21st century so they are far more difficult to duplicate fraudulently,' Maney said.
The bill, called the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act of 2005, also increases penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens from a maximum of $10,000 to $50,000.
It also makes the hiring of a known illegal worker a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison per count instead of a total of five years.
The bill would also add 10,000 new Homeland Security personnel to ensure employer compliance.
Also called the Bonner Plan, the bill is supported by the nationwide Border Patrol union.
"This will reduce the volume of illegal traffic at the borders dramatically, allowing the Border Patrol to have a halfway decent shot to catch criminals and terrorists coming across our borders,' said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "With millions of people flooding our borders every year, it's virtually impossible to assure the public that we are catching even a fraction of the really bad apples out there.'
But some say the Bonner Plan does not go far enough.
Andy Ramirez, executive director of Friends of the Border Patrol, said he believes the penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens should be stiffer.
"It should be $50,000 per illegal alien,' Ramirez said.
While the bill is a good start, he continued, he wondered whether it would be supported or undermined by the Bush administration.
The Bonner Plan is co-sponsored by four other House members, including Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista.
The second bill introduced by Dreier, the Citizens and Legal Immigrants (CALI) Act, aims to address the backlog of immigration cases by reinstating the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as the sole venue for challenges to alien-removal orders, Maney said.
Legislation passed in 1996, and a subsequent Supreme Court decision, have opened the door for aliens to take their cases to other venues. That's resulted in some jurisdictions affording criminal aliens a greater chance for judicial review than noncriminal aliens or even U.S. citizens, Maney said.
"We want to bring the clarity back into the judicial process here,' she said.
The bill is being co-sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.
On Tuesday, some Latino activists criticized Dreier's legislation as pandering to political forces.
"In very simple and open language ... he allowed himself to be used as a pawn by these powerful nativist forces that have been pressuring him,' said Armando Navarro, a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside.
Dreier was targeted as a "political sacrifice' by KFI-AM (640 talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of "The John and Ken Show' before the November election for his record on illegal immigration. Although Dreier retained his House seat, the campaign against him resulted in his most narrow victory 54 percent to 43 percent since first being elected in 1980.
Dreier also is supporting border security and immigration legislation that would not allow illegal residents to have driver's licenses and would tighten the nation's asylum system.