"We hope to come to a little bit more clarity by the time we meet again next Tuesday," said Peggy Mazzara, chair of the Community Action Committee. "I'm leaving the door open to informal input, but the elected officials should provide the ultimate decision."
Some CAC members contend that the garrison plays such a pivotal role at the Harrison Township base that closure would mark a major defeat. But the Selfridge Base Community Council apparently questions the effectiveness of arguing that the Pentagon recommendation should be rejected outright.
"If the Army doesn't want to remain at Selfridge, we don't want to force them to stay," said Ray Glime of the Base Community Council and a CAC member. "Apparently the Army was never too happy to be out there. We think we could find an agency to take that property. We think the Air Force should take it over."
The Army garrison, with about 300 employees, handles a wide array of services, from housing and street maintenance to fire protection and recreation facilities, such as the base golf course and bowling alley.
But some CAC members say the "human services" provided to active-duty troops, National Guard members, reservists and retired military personnel are being overlooked. Those range from a medical clinic and pharmacy to a child care center and the popular commissary, where military families shop.
When the Base Realignment and Closure commission holds a regional hearing in St. Louis in 12 days, Michigan will only be allocated 30 minutes to make its case. That half hour will cover all BRAC issues related to Selfridge and the proposed closing of the Air National Guard base in Battle Creek.
Despite the tight timeframe, Mazzara said she believes arguments similar to those made in 1995, when a BRAC recommendation to close the garrison was reversed, could be successfully posed again.
She said the current recommendation fails to recognize that the services provided by the garrison benefit all branches of the service that maintain operations at the base -- the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, plus the Michigan National Guard.
"It's hard to believe, but they (the Defense Department) might be making the same mistake all over again," she said.
But Glime said the Base Community Council wants only to push the BRAC commission to "polish" the recommendation by turning the garrison duties over to the Air Force, a logical role for their personnel at an air base.
The base council will play no active role in St. Louis, only in the preparations for that hearing. With the CAC's $300,000 budget running dry, it can no longer afford to pay its expert attorney, George Ash.
Instead, Warren City Attorney George Constance will represent the county at the June 20 session, at no cost to the CAC.
Constance served as the lead attorney in a previous BRAC process when the Warren tank plant was closed.
The recommendations forwarded to the BRAC commission May 13 proposed three major changes for Selfridge: closing the garrison; relocating Battle Creek's 110th Fighter Wing and its 274 jobs to Selfridge; and moving about 1,000 Air Force reservists and full-time workers assigned to the 927th Air Refueling Wing to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
Battle Creek officials, with the help of the governor's office, are expected to use a good portion of the 30 minutes of hearing time arguing that the 110th Fighter Wing should remain at Kellogg Airport.
Glime said the base council will remain neutral on the transfer of the Battle Creek unit. Opposing the move of the 927th to Florida appears futile, he added.
Mazzara said she believes making the case for and against those two moves, respectively, in St. Louis would not be "fruitful." The Pentagon, she said, can move aircraft units from base to base within or without the BRAC process.
Richard Smith, a union representative for the civilian workers at Selfridge, said the CAC should question the coherence of removing the only Air Force reserve unit in Michigan at a time when the Defense Department is struggling to meet its troop recruitment targets.
"Why is Michigan no longer going to have a place for (Air Force) reservists to train?" asked Smith, a 31-year base employee and a representative for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2077. "We won't be able to recruit people if there's no place nearby for them to train."
1,400 at D.C. meet say ‘Take Back America’
WASHINGTON — Hundreds of protesters, chanting “Hands off my Social Security” and “Not wise to privatize,” marched to the White House in the rain June 3.
The march came at the conclusion of a three-day “Take Back America” conference marked by calls for fightback against President Bush on issues like the war in Iraq, Social Security privatization and the “Wal-Mart economy.” Four days later, an ABC/Washington Post poll showed Bush’s disapproval rating at a career high of 52 percent.
William McNary, president of Chicago-based USAction, told the crowd in Lafayette Park, “We’re not going to stand idly by and let George W. Bush destroy our Social Security. … We must resist his divide-and-conquer strategy. The things that are most precious to us are things we share.”
National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy called for all-out defense of Social Security. “Shame, shame,” she shouted while pointing an accusing finger to the White House. “Are women with us? Are workers with us? Are retired Americans with us? We can win!”
Roger Hickey, co-chair of the Campaign for America’s Future, sponsor of the conference, derided Bush’s recent 60-day road trip to sell Social Security privatization. “The longer he was on the road, the more people turned against him,” Hickey said.
A man in a top hat representing “Billionaires for Bush” grabbed the microphone. “Send Social Security checks to poor people, seniors and the disabled and they just waste it on food,” he sneered. “Wouldn’t you rather have your pension funds managed by United Airlines? Wal-Mart can lend a helping hand.” The crowd erupted in boos and laughter.
Steve Kofahl of Everett, Wash., and Witold Skwierczynski of Catonsville, Md., both employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA), wore American Federation of Government Employees T-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Under attack.”
Earlier this year the two helped expose Bush’s use of SSA employees to promote privatization. They contacted Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who convened hearings last January at which Kofahl and other SSA workers testified.
“Our employees were being used to promote the Bush administration’s political agenda and that is illegal,” said Kofahl. “Bush’s plan, over time, would dismantle Social Security.”
That same defiant mood permeated the entire conference.
“All the polls show that a majority of the people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction,” Gandy told the World. “They specifically blame it on two things — Bush’s leadership and the Iraq war. NOW members have been dissatisfied with Bush from the beginning, but Bush’s activities have encouraged that same opposition all across the country and that is very heartening.”
Georgia state Rep. Nan Grogan Orrock (D-Atlanta) told the World that Republicans “are creating a lot of heartburn in their own base. They give tax cuts to the corporations and cut programs, like Medicaid health care for children, that enjoy broad support in Georgia.”
Greeted as a hero was Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa. He told the mostly white crowd that the Democratic Party has not made urban issues, including poverty, a high priority. “You look at this room today and you don’t see the kind of diversity we need to build a strong movement in America,” he said. “We are not reaching out enough.”
Cities for Progress together with the Institute for Policy Studies convened a press conference at which New York City Councilman Bill Perkins told reporters, “Taking back America begins in our cities. I come from Cities for Peace. I bring a voice against the war. I lost a family member in 9/11 and I want to bring the troops home.”
Chicago Alderman Joe Moore said his city council resolution opposing the Iraq invasion was approved 47-1. “The cost of the war is borne by people in my community,” he said. “Two billion dollars could have been used for afterschool programs and day care.”
In a plenary session, “Challenging the Wal-Mart Economy,” Joe Hansen, president of the 1.4-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), talked about the bitter strike by 70,000 supermarket workers in California last fall. The issue was takeaways in the name of being “competitive” with Wal-Mart.
“We fought them to a standstill,” Hansen said. “The unfair competitive edge for Wal-Mart creates this crisis. … They fire workers, terrorize workers. … It’s a damn shame and it’s time we stand up to end it. UFCW cannot do it alone. We need allies. Wal-Mart workers need a union voice.”
AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff said Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 1696, S 842) for a simple majority card-check to win union recognition. At last count, 207 representatives and 32 senators have endorsed the bills.
“This administration and Congress have declared war on all of us,” Acuff said.
“There is no clearer example of the hypocrisy of the Bush administration than their use of the 9/11 tragedy to strip workers of union rights,” he said. “Every cop, every firefighter who died was a union member. Union members are good enough to die in 9/11, in Afghanistan and Iraq, but cannot belong to a union at the Department of Homeland Security. There is something wrong with this picture!”
The Minuteman Project
Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr.
A survey conducted last year by the National Border Patrol Council found that the majority of U.S. Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers do not believe they have been given the proper tools, training, and support to effectively stop illegal immigrants from entering the country.
Recently, citizens in Arizona have banded together to create their own citizen patrols. During the month of April, the Minuteman Project announced that it had placed 857 volunteers along the Arizona border. The organization claims its efforts resulted in the Border Patrol’s apprehension of 335 individuals illegally crossing the border.
While the Minutemen have been portrayed by certain groups as a band of marauding vigilantes, founder Chris Simcox says the group has a no contact policy. The Minuteman code is: “Spot, report, and avoid any contact with people entering our Country illegally. No exceptions.”
This is not the first time citizens have assembled to help enforce our immigration laws. In 1989, Muriel Watson, the widow of Border Patrol agent George Watson, created the Light Up the Border movement in San Diego, California. Groups of citizens would drive up to the border at night and point their headlights at the “no man’s land” area where robberies, rapes, and even murders often occurred.
As a result, permanent lighting fixtures and triple fencing were installed along much of the 14-mile stretch of border south of San Diego. This helped cause the pattern of illegal immigration to shift away from that part of the border.
The Minuteman Project also claims to be responsible for reducing the number of illegal border crossings in the areas it monitors by two-thirds. However, the CBP says those numbers are skewed. It claims that that the decline is due to increased border patrol agents in that area. The CBP also argues the Minutemen have done more harm than good by setting off motion detectors along the border.
However, the Minuteman Project has brought much needed attention to a very pressing dilemma. I have never felt that we as a Nation have been tough enough on illegal immigration, nor do I feel that we have any idea of just how large the problem is.
Based on many news reports I have read and heard and conversations I have had with Members of Congress from all around the Country, I honestly believe that there are probably three or four more times the number of illegal aliens already here in the United States than the federal government estimates.
I greatly admire the work ethic of those who come here from other countries. However, apparently hundreds of millions from around the world would come here tomorrow if they could.
Our health, education, and other services just could not handle that great of an influx almost overnight, and our Nation’s infrastructure would suffer greatly as well. We have to have some type of legal, orderly system of immigration.
Also, when the number of immigrants was relatively low, they mainly seemed to take very unpleasant jobs that not one else wanted. Now, however, we are hearing more and more complaints about immigrants taking good construction jobs and buying very successful small businesses that take customers from American-owned businesses.
Unfortunately, the CBP and the Border Patrol do not seem to have accurate statistics on illegal immigration and are not doing a good job in preventing this problem either.
Recently, the Government Reform Committee, of which I am a member, held a hearing on the security of our borders. During this hearing, I asked CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner why so many CBP officers and Border Patrol agents are not doing their jobs.
During my 17 years in Congress, I have found that any time federal agencies foul up, they usually blame it on two things. They always say they are under funded and/or have an outdated computer system.
I remember when we found out that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were here illegally. The then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) said the men had entered the Country illegally because the agency was under funded.
Later, Congressman Elton Gallegly went on 60 Minutes saying the Congress had given the INS a 250% increase in funding over the previous eight years. That is more than a 30% increase each year.
I spent 7½ years as a criminal court judge trying felony cases before I came to Congress, and whenever a defendant took off or skipped bond, the bonding companies went after them. That is done all over the Country. I do not think people realize how much law enforcement is done in this Country through private agencies, citizens, and businesses.
In addition to that, I have found that we get the biggest bang for our buck from our lowest-paid law enforcement officials, the local officers. I think if we took half of the money we are spending now on border enforcement and turned it over to local law enforcement agencies along the border, we would probably apprehend more illegal aliens.
I am not advocating such a policy because border security is a federal responsibility, but over the last ten years or so, we have given the Border Patrol, Customs, and all of the other agencies involved whopping increases in spending. This jump in funding is at least several times the rate of inflation over those years, yet these same agencies continually cry about being under funded. I think they hire too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
I am proud of what the Minuteman Project has done. Not only have the Minutemen peacefully volunteered their services to help solve one of our Nation’s biggest problems, they have made more Americans aware of the need for stricter enforcement of illegal immigration.
Resuming flights to Mexico makes odd bedfellows
Immigrant advocacy groups and border militias agree the Border Patrol plan's a waste of money.
The U.S. Border Patrol's plan to resume flying Mexicans caught sneaking across the border to the interior of Mexico has united migrant aid organizations, Border Patrol unions and border militias as little else has.
They all think it is a colossal waste of money.
"Even the open-borders folks are against it," said Minuteman militia leader Chris Simcox, referring to immigrant advocacy groups. "Everyone agrees the program is ridiculous."
Jen Allen, of the human rights group Border Action Network, said the program was "yet another of the agency's Band-Aids that they slap on a profound issue when in fact what is needed are fundamental changes to immigration policy."
The project aims to reduce illegal immigrant deaths by discouraging migrants from re-entering the desert once they are caught by Border Patrol, said agency spokesman Jose Garza. The Border Patrol usually releases apprehended Mexicans on the other side of the border where they often recross on the same day.
"We're trying to target people that are at risk," Garza said. "Minors, elderly, pregnant women. They use all their money to get to the border and don't have the money to get home. So they'll try again, succumbing to the elements."
A free flight home gives them an out, and takes them out of reach of smugglers, who Garza said will do whatever they can to encourage everybody to cross again.
"Maybe they'll let them rest a day, but then they'll exploit them again," Garza said.
Flights will begin tomorrow and continue through Sept. 30. The project aims to return more than 30,000 Mexicans and is projected to cost $14.2 million, Garza said.
The Border Patrol could better save lives by spending the money on more agents and technology, Simcox said.
"If they sealed off the deadliest areas around Yuma and Sasabe, at least it would push (migrants) into an area where they are less likely to die," Simcox said. "Once we secure the border, we won't have to fly anybody back because they won't be able to get in."
Allen said the money could be better spent expediting petitions from legal residents to bring their families to the United States. In at least one case from 2003, a woman died crossing the border while trying to join her husband, who was a legal resident. He'd applied for her visa five years earlier, but the couple finally tired of being apart.
"If the purpose is to save lives, use it on proven technology" said Robin Hoover, who heads the humanitarian aid group Humane Borders. "Rescue beacons, water stations, putting cell phone towers out in the desert. All of those would be more effective."
In recent months, the Border Patrol has rescued two large groups thanks to frantic calls made from cell phones.
All the critics said the project would do little because those who wanted to cross, would eventually do so, even if they returned home for a bit.
Last year, the Border Patrol had trouble filling the flights, and canceled flights to Guadalajara after a month out of lack of interest. This year's flights will go only to Mexico City.
T.J. Bonner, the head of the national Border Patrol union, called the program a "colossal waste of money." He said that money could better be spent on more agents, and that a more comprehensive approach, including a crackdown on employers, is needed to truly reduce the flow of migrants.
"These people are dirt-poor and desperate," he said. "As long as they have the carrot of a job dangled in front of them, they will cross." Without some kind of effective workplace enforcement, "nothing will stop them," Bonner said. "Not the heat of day or the dark of night or anything."
New Pay and Personnel System Is Delayed Until Later in the Year, Pentagon Says
By Stephen Barr
Thursday, June 9, 2005; B02
The launch of a new pay and personnel system for civil service workers at the Defense Department, scheduled to begin next month, has been delayed until later this year, according to a Pentagon announcement.
Spiral One, as the Pentagon calls the launch of the National Security Personnel System, will start in phases beginning in October, officials in the NSPS program executive office said.
Last year, the Pentagon announced that 300,000 civil service employees at military bases across the country had been selected for the launch of the pay and personnel system. The first phase of Spiral One in October will involve 60,000 employees, including civilians at Fort Belvoir, Fort Myer and Andrews Air Force Base.
Pentagon officials originally projected that planning sessions and meetings with labor leaders would be completed by now. They also said they would be "event driven" and would not rush the system to meet artificial deadlines.
Labor leaders are scheduled to meet next week, probably for the last time, with Gordon England , acting deputy defense secretary, and Dan G. Blair , acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, to review union concerns about the NSPS. Union leaders have denounced the NSPS as an effort to strip workers of their job rights and protections.
Joyce K. Frank , spokeswoman for the NSPS, said officials expect to publish revised regulations this summer. Although the NSPS could begin 30 days after the final regulations are published, Frank said the system will not be underway until the DOD issues internal directives and until managers and workers have begun training.
The NSPS, as outlined in a Feb. 14 proposed regulation, will revamp pay, performance management, employee appeals and labor relations. A key feature calls for abolishing the General Schedule pay system and moving Defense employees to broad salary ranges so managers can give more weight to job performance in setting pay. When converting to the new system, no employee will take a pay cut, and some may get raises, officials have said.
Tentative plans call for shifting the first 60,000 employees into new job performance plans in October. The employees would receive the traditional January pay raise authorized by Congress and then, in late January, shift to "pay bands" -- the broad salary ranges that will replace the GS system. Under the new timeline, the employees would receive their first NSPS raises in January 2007.
Other changes, such as revamped employee appeals procedures, also will take effect in late January, the officials said.
More groups of Spiral One employees will phase into the NSPS next spring and next summer. After an evaluation of Spiral One, the remainder of Defense employees will shift to the NSPS in the next two to three years, Frank said.
One of the most controversial parts of the new system -- strict limits on what can be put on the bargaining table by unions -- will probably take effect in September on a department-wide basis. The Pentagon had originally announced that union rules would change in July.
Unions represent more than half of the DOD's 746,000 civil service employees, and 10 unions have filed a lawsuit to stop the new labor rules.
Social Security Hearing
Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.), chairman of the subcommittee on Social Security, has scheduled a hearing for today on two parts of Social Security law that numerous federal employees believe are unfair.
Repeal of the government pension offset and the windfall elimination provision are top legislative goals for groups that represent the interests of federal retirees, teachers and other public employees.
McCrery, in announcing today's hearing, said, "As we work to strengthen Social Security for the future, we should examine proposals to ensure teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees are treated fairly under the program."
The government pension offset reduces an individual's survivor benefits under Social Security by two-thirds of the amount of the public pension, and the windfall elimination provision reduces Social Security for retirees who paid into Social Security and also receive a government pension.