New work rules rile Arsenal unions

The Defense Department announced three months ago that 2,400 Arsenal Island workers were going to be among the first federal workers to fall under new work rules called the National Security Personnel System.
The system, which is set for implementation in July, will link employee pay to performance rather than longevity, change the rules governing an employee’s appeal rights and revise how the department interacts with its labor unions.
The Defense Department says the current system makes it too difficult to hire and retain people, pays excellent employees the same as poor ones and is too rigid and inflexible, limiting its ability to respond to emergencies.
However, in comments submitted this week, representatives of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 15, said the rules would destroy the team atmosphere in the workplace, demoralize employees and create the potential for discrimination.
“We really see it as disconnecting workers from one another,” said Tom Esparza, the president of Local 15. He said there also are concerns about the rules giving the department an expanded ability to deploy or reassign workers.
Local 15, which covers 4,000 workers on the island, also says the proposed system leaves a lot of unanswered questions and that employees were not adequately consulted in the drafting of the new rules.
“There were few meetings and DOD (the Department of Defense) operated under a shroud of secrecy, which gave us nothing more than a system doomed to fail,” the filing states. Wednesday was the final day for comments to be submitted.
A Defense Department official could not be reached for comment Thursday by the QUAD-CITY TIMES, but Mary Lacey, the program executive officer for the system, held an online chat Wednesday and said local employees working with their supervisors will develop performance goals linked to the organization’s mission.
“There will be periodic feedback throughout the year, and we want those to be a two-way conversation so that supervisors hear from employees as well,” she said.
As for transfers, Lacey said the Defense Department already has the power to transfer workers, subject to appeal.
Next, a 30-day consultation period will begin.
Esparza said about 500 individuals on Arsenal Island submitted comments along with Local 15. Nationwide, he said, 45,000 to 50,000 comments were submitted.
The union representing factory workers in the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center submitted a separate protest.
Congress approved the new personnel system two years ago, but local officials hope the complaints will get their attention before it is implemented.
“Congress needs to listen because DOD is flipping their nose at Congress,” said Mary DeSmet, a union vice president.
The union recently held an informational meeting concerning the rules. About 300,000 Defense Department workers overall are expected to be affected in the initial implementation.

Budget bill would enforce border protection here
Bulk of 2,000 new agents could be stationed in Valley

The Brownsville Herald

March 18, 2005 — The majority of 2,000 new U.S Border Patrol agents could be coming to Texas, U.S. Senate officials said.

According to congressional records, a fiscal year 2006 budget bill amendment for numerous federal agencies, including Border Patrol, passed unanimously on the Senate floor Thursday.

The amendment introduced by eight senators including Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and John Cornyn, calls for creating 2,000 new Border Patrol agent positions in the next fiscal year.

“When Congress passed the intelligence reform bill, we made clear the need for increased patrols along our border,” Hutchison said in a written statement issued Thursday. “Our Border Patrol agents are critical in protecting not only our borders from illegal immigration, but our homeland from terrorism.”
The amendment is headed to a joint House-Senate committee and could be sent to the president for signature in the fall.

Although exact numbers are not available, Hutchison spokesman Chris Paulitz said Texas would receive the largest number of new agents.

“That will be worked out once it is appropriated,” Paulitz said. “This bill was intended for the southern border.”

According to the Border Patrol’s McAllen Sector, 1,500 agents currently enforce federal immigration and drug smuggling laws in the 18 southernmost Texas counties, including Cameron County.

Federal figures show, more than 40 percent of the 19,000 non-Mexican nationals arrested for illegal entry in the United States come through the Rio Grande Valley.

Nationwide, about 11,000 Border Patrol agents are assigned to the country’s borders with Mexico and Canada, according to a Washington Times article.

Although the 9-11 Commission recommended adding 10,000 new Border Patrol agents and 8,000 immigration detention center beds over the next five years, President Bush’s 2006 budget proposal calls for 210 new agents.

National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner said Thursday’s budget amendment was a positive development, but remained concerned that no new agents would be hired in future years.

Another concern, Bonner said, is whether the agency could hire the new agents quickly enough and whether they would stay on board.

“If you intend to hire 2,000 people, some of them should be in the pipeline already,” Bonner said. “Since March, only 100 people have been put through the pipeline. The rest were discouraged and have moved on to other careers.”

According to federal figures, each new Border Patrol agent costs $180,000 in training and equipment.

Thursday’s appropriations amendment funds the new positions by taking $352 million from the federal government’s International Affairs Fund, which is traditionally used in diplomatic matters, a press release from Hutchison’s office stated.

“There is not one dime of new federal spending (for this measure),” Paulitz said. “The bill just uses money from other sources.”

Chertoff Orders Agency Review
Changes Possible, DHS Chief Says
By John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page A23
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that he has launched a top-to-bottom review of the 180,000-employee department and will consider revamping entire agencies and programs that are part of it.
"Old categories, old jurisdictions and old turf will not define our objectives," Chertoff said in a speech at George Washington University, 13 days after he took over the department. "Bureaucratic structures and categories exist to serve our mission, and not to drive it."
Chertoff described his 60- to 90-day examination as "a comprehensive review of our entire organization, the way it's structured . . . and its policies."
In an interview with reporters, Chertoff declined to elaborate on possible changes, but officials said one option is merging two of its agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates crimes, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which monitors foreigners arriving at U.S. airports, are separate parts of the former U.S. Customs Service and the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Proponents say the reunited agency would function more effectively.
In his speech, Chertoff said his study to identify the department's top priorities will focus on three factors: the specific kinds of threats terrorists pose, American society's vulnerabilities to attack and which kinds of attacks would be most devastating.
In his address, Chertoff for the first time laid out his vision for protecting the nation, and there were no obvious differences with the priorities of his predecessor, Tom Ridge. But Chertoff hinted at subtle changes in emphasis.
Chertoff, who headed the Justice Department's criminal division under former attorney general John D. Ashcroft, said he expects smoother coordination between federal agencies, particularly his department and Justice. Aides have pointed out that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has a much more circumspect style than Ashcroft, his predecessor.
"We have a new group of players, people who are in government," Chertoff said. "I don't think there's anybody here who's looking to jostle for position in front of the camera. I think what we're looking to do is project a disciplined and steady flow of information to the public, which keeps people informed."
On a few occasions in the past couple of years, Ridge was frustrated when Ashcroft announced alarming terrorist threat information -- a duty that, under presidential directive, falls to the homeland security secretary. At times, the DHS disagreed with the tone of Ashcroft's announcements.
Chertoff said his inclination is to avoid commenting publicly about fast-moving threat-related events, especially in the realm of scientific investigations, unless he is certain of the facts -- even if the media are clamoring for information. "I may say we don't know very much at all," he said. "I'm not going to guess."
Aides said those remarks were prompted in part by events on Tuesday when, they said, two cable television networks incorrectly reported that government laboratories had confirmed finding anthrax bacteria at a Defense Department mail facility in Virginia. By Tuesday evening, officials said tests all but ruled out the presence of anthrax bacteria.
Chertoff declined to discuss details about 12 possible scenarios for terrorist attacks identified by the White House's Homeland Security Council last year. The council's report, distributed to state homeland security offices, was designed to sharpen preparedness planning at all levels of government. It was revealed by the New York Times in yesterday's editions.
A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb, for example, would destroy everything within a half mile, would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and would contaminate 3,000 square miles of land, according to the report. An attack on a petroleum refinery could kill 350 people and hospitalize 1,000, it said.
Attacking a chlorine tank at an industrial plant could cause 17,500 deaths, and likely would prompt large groups of people to flee in panic, which would cause more fatalities in traffic accidents and other mishaps. The rule of thumb, the report said, is one fatality for every 10,000 people who evacuate.

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