Homeland Security secretary nominee gets mixed reception

"When Mike is confirmed by the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security will be led by a practical organizer, a skilled manager and a brilliant thinker," Bush said Tuesday.
Bush noted that Chertoff was previously confirmed three times by the Senate. The president's previous pick to head the department - former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik - withdrew his nomination citing problems with tax payments to a nanny.
Since 2003, Chertoff has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands. He was confirmed 88 to 1 by the Senate for a seat on the court.
"If confirmed, it will be my privilege to serve with the thousands of men and women who stand watch across the country and overseas, protecting our security and promoting our freedom," the nominee said Tuesday.
Chertoff has largely flown under the public radar even though he was a central figure in shaping Bush administration policies in the war on terrorism after Sept. 11. He is the former chief of the Justice Department's criminal division and helped create and implement the 2001 USA Patriot Act.
In the months immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Chertoff oversaw the government's effort to round up, detain and question hundreds of Arabs and Muslims without charges, bail or trials. As one of the government's top criminal prosecutors, he also led arguments in the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the 9/11 attacks. Chertoff argued that Moussaoui should not have a constitutional right to question enemy combatants held overseas.
Chertoff most recently served on a panel of current and former federal officials, judges and lawyers that proposed new rules on assassinations, surveillance, detentions, interrogations and military tribunals.
The task force, convened by Harvard University and called the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, concluded that the government should alter its policy for using military commissions to prosecute war crimes and foreign suspects. The panel defended the Patriot Act and said the government should have the ability to hold suspects for up to two years without trial, but supported laws banning torture. It also said that harsh interrogation methods should be spelled out by the executive branch, and any use of them should be reported to congressional committees.
Chertoff also is a former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. In the mid-1990s, he was the Republicans' special counsel for the Senate committee that investigated the Whitewater affair involving former President Clinton.
Chertoff's nomination was greeted favorably on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
"I have the utmost respect for Mike," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif. "He will be the strong and effective leader that the Department of Homeland Security needs."
"His experience in counterterrorism at Justice has prepared him well, and his capacity to quickly master other new areas of his responsibilities is boundless," Cox said, adding that he has known Chertoff for almost 30 years.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also welcomed the nomination. Lieberman said, however, that Chertoff "will face significant challenges" to improve the department's operations and set clear security policies.
"The department is still struggling to integrate its many component parts into a well-organized machine," Lieberman said. "It has not yet articulated a clear homeland security strategy. And it is behind in its work to catalog and assess threats to the nation's core energy, telecommunications, water, transportation and financial networks. High turnover and scarce resources are partially to blame."
Reaction was more mixed outside Capitol Hill.
Mark Roth, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, said there couldn't be a worse time for somebody to come into the department.
"In all candor, at this exact time, in that agency, there probably isn't a worse job on the planet," Roth said. "If I were a personal friend, I would tell him don't leave the judiciary. He is walking into a complete hornet's nest at the worst possible time."
Roth said Chertoff will face a series of management challenges, such as infighting between bureaus over limited resources, the implementation of controversial new personnel regulations, financial disarray, and what to do with disputed polices, such as One Face at the Border. Roth added that several key senior managers are leaving the department, which makes Chertoff's job all the more difficult.
"Somebody has to do it. We don't know that he has the background," Roth said. "We want to work with him, and we hope that he'll be open to working with us."
Some civil rights advocates, however, were discouraged by Chertoff's nomination.
The American Civil Liberties Union described Chertoff's nomination as "worrisome."
The ACLU urged the Senate to exercise its powers to explore Chertoff's record and the impact it will have on civil liberties.
ACLU legislative counsel Timothy Edgar noted that Chertoff and attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales were key among the architects of the administration's early policies for the war on terrorism.
"We've got the legal team that has been responsible for abridging our civil rights now being in charge of the agencies that need to safeguard our rights," Edgar said.
James Carafano, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, praised the nomination.
He acknowledged that the administration apparently erred on the side of being safe after the experience with Kerik by picking somebody who could be confirmed. But he said Chertoff should be able to "hit the ground running" and has experience dealing with Congress. He also believes Chertoff's background will help DHS prioritize law enforcement to prevent attacks, rather than trying respond if another attack occurs.
"I think he'll make a really good contribution," Carafano said. "It's exactly the kind of nominee that should have been picked."


Too Good to Be True?
Jan. 12, 2005

Shortly after we broke the news that most Washington area feds would get a special Inauguration Day holiday we started hearing from people outside Washington who won't get Inauguration Day off.
Some beyond-the-beltway types said they understood. That it is a good idea, especially since this is the first Inaugural since the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York, to clear the streets of the nation's capital. After all this is a primary target, and the city will be full of VIPs from around the country and around the world. Keeping 300,000-plus feds off the streets will help with transportation, security and crowd control. But others, meaning the majority, said it isn't fair.
Washington-based feds responded that this only happens every four years, and that besides, federal workers get a holiday every year in some cities. They cited New Orleans-based feds during Mardi Gras, and Boston area feds who get a holiday for Patriots Day, which is the second week in April. It's a great, in-your-face comeback from us (inside the beltway) to you (outside the beltway) except for one problem. It isn't true! We made the mistake of checking, which often ruins a good story.
My partner in crime Ann Donnelly called the Federal Executive Board in Beantown. They said that Commonwealth of Massachusetts employees and Boston city workers get Patriots Day off. But feds across the commonwealth do not.
Blow number two comes from New Orleans. Officials say that, officially, feds in New Orleans don't get time off for Mardi Gras. So there!
Feds and retirees who are eligible for Part B of Medicare but who haven't signed up yet have until March 31 to sign up. Those who enroll by that date will have coverage effective July 1. Part B is the medical insurance portion of Medicare. It helps pay doctor bills, outpatient hospital treatemnet and other services (and in many cases supplies too) not covered by Medicare Part A.
The Part B premium in 2005 is $78.20. People who were eligible before who either dropped coverage or never elected it can also sign up, but they must pay a surcharge, or late fee, of 10 percent of the premium for each 12-month period they could have been in Part B but were not. For details, check the excellent webpage of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees by clicking here.
Workers covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System pay into Social Security, up to an annual limit. This year the limit is $90,000, up from $87,900 last year. What that means is that when (as in IF) your salary earnings go over $90,000 this year, your Social Security (FICA) tax will stop. You will continue to pay Medicare regardless of salary.
She's leaving as Director of the Office of Personnel Management at the end of the month (but you got the first alert here on FederalNewsRadio.com Monday afternoon,) and getting very good press for the job she did. Even federal unions, that often tangle with OPM (particularly when a Republican is in the White House,) say she will be missed. John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, put it like this: "she has always had a consistent open door policy in regard to talking with our union representatives. We appreciate her willingness to listen to our concerns. We wish her the best with her future endeavors."
If you have any questions you'd like answered, you can send email to: [email protected] or call in questions during the show: 1-866-895-5086 or 202-895-5086

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