The Federal Bureau of Prisons has already begun moving in more inmates and expects to bring the total population at Marion to about 900 by the end of the year.
Union officials say they want to be a part of the planning for the increase. And they say they need at least twice as many officers to maintain a safe environment at the prison.
Defense personnel system wins measured praise
By David McGlinchey
The Government Accountability Office on Tuesday commended the architects of the National Security Personnel System for developing a "flexible and contemporary" system to manage the Defense Department's civilian human capital.
"Many of the principles underlying the proposed NSPS regulations are generally consistent with proven approaches," GAO chief David Walker said in written testimony prepared for the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization. "GAO strongly supports the concept of modernizing federal human capital policies, including providing reasonable flexibility."
Subcommittee Chairman Jon Porter, R-Nev., said the development of NSPS is a "Herculean task," and he promised to use the power of the subcommittee to monitor the system's emergence.
In 2003, Congress allowed the Pentagon to reshape its civilian personnel system. In January of this year, Defense personnel officials proposed some details of the overhaul, including the removal of the General Schedule system, the implementation of a performance pay framework, a streamlined appeals process and a reduction in collective bargaining.
Defense workers' unions have vehemently opposed the move, and a coalition of labor organizations filed a lawsuit in February to block the NSPS, claiming that Defense officials did not follow a congressional mandate to include unions in the development of the new system. That legal action is still pending.
During a March congressional hearing, several lawmakers and officials - including Walker - called on the Pentagon to provide more details on the NSPS. On Tuesday, he repeated that appeal.
The current regulations do not "define the details of the implementation of the system, including such issues as adequate safeguards to help ensure fairness and guard against abuse," according to GAO's testimony.
GAO also urged the Pentagon to ensure the "continuing involvement of employees in the planning, development and implementation of NSPS." Union leaders said, however, that they have not been involved to this point.
"It is not too late for DoD to decide to work with its unionized employees, rather than against us," said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, who was appearing on behalf of the organized labor coalition. He said the Pentagon must include workers in the process "so that the implementation of a new system and its procedures is smooth, and conducive to high morale and continued focus on the department's national security mission."
At the hearing, Porter sought to encourage the dissenting parties to work together.
"Change can be difficult, and I know that this is a nerve-wracking experience for the department's workforce," he said. "I am confident that if the NSPS is implemented in a fair, credible and transparent manner, DoD employees will thrive under the new system."
Defense officials also stated their support for a shared process.
"We remain committed to the collaborative approach we have taken in the development of NSPS, and we will continue to encourage a dialogue," said Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page B02
J. Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel at the American Federation of Government Employees, will discuss civil service changes at the Defense Department at noon today on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.
Lawmakers told manpower is key for effective border security
By Kimberly Reeves, for National Journal's Technology Daily
AUSTIN, Texas - Increased technology along the Texas border cannot replace the "boots on the border" necessary to address homeland security, Democratic House members from Texas were told during a session on the federal budget at the Texas Capitol on Monday.
Criminals who want to cross the border into the United States are not stupid, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor group that represents U.S. Border Patrol workers. If the United States had announced, with great fanfare, that border agents would be massed along the Arizona border, then those looking for safe passage will turn to other states, Bonner said.
"If we think smugglers are stupid enough to flow through Arizona where we're beefing up our presence ... Well, I can tell you that they're not that stupid," Bonner said. "Some of the folks in the administration may be, but I can assure you the criminals are not."
Bonner, whose group represents border-security guards, had a receptive audience. Rep. Silvestre Reyes held up a large blank piece of cardboard and said the Bush administration's plan for homeland security was as blank as that cardboard when it came to protecting the country.
"We have a president, running for re-election, who said his No. 1 priority was keeping us safe as a nation and then comes in and insults the country by saying, 'I'm going to fund less than 50 percent of the attribution rate of the U.S. Border Patrol,'" said Reyes, a former Border Patrol agent. "That is scandalous as far as I'm concerned."
Bonner said technology was key to the enforcement effort along the border. New equipment in the federal budget includes millions of sensors and low-light infrared cameras. It provides extra eyes and ears, but it does not replace agents, Bonner said.
"The administration, in its budget request, has touted technology as a replacement for boots on the border, but it's agents, not technology, that goes out and apprehend," Bonner said. "This is not a high-tech military game of tag where we go out and say, 'Tag, you're it. Go back home.' By and large, we're out there apprehending them ourselves."
Rep. Gene Green, who represents the Ship Channel in Houston, said border and port security must be in place to maintain strong border control. In other testimony, Port of Houston Managing Director Wade Battles agreed, saying the port had devoted $100 million to new equipment to upgrade its security.
Battles estimated about 10 percent of all cargo is screened. The need for security must be balanced with the need to keep cargo flowing, Battles said. And while technology was a significant component to meet that end, Battles agreed that personnel were the key answer when it came down to how to get the job done.
"We have new tools and equipment that are being deployed, but we have a critical need for additional officers and personnel, especially if we're going to try to push our borders offshore," Battles said. "We need to make sure all of our first responders, have the personnel and tools they need to succeed."
Migrant flights to Mexico might be resumed
Contractor sought to operate the flights
Apr. 12, 2005 09:20 AM
The Department of Homeland Security is apparently taking steps to restart a costly program begun last year to return illegal immigrants to their hometowns in Mexico instead of releasing them to nearby towns across the Arizona border.
The department will not confirm the resumption of the flights, but a notice on its Web site last week said it is seeking a contractor to fly up to 300 people a day from Tucson to Mexico.
The notice called for a firm to operate charter flights, provide for on-flight medical and security services, and supply buses and staff to help Mexican officials unload and transport the deported migrants.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mario Villareal would not comment on the announcement, except to say the department was still discussing the flights with Mexican authorities.
The purpose of the program was to move migrants out of the Arizona's dangerous terrain, Villareal said. Arizona is the most popular, and deadliest, crossing area along the Southwest border.
The federal government has tried several repatriation programs.
In September 2003, the Border Patrol ran a "lateral" program that flew migrants from Arizona to Texas, where they were expelled into Mexican border towns. The three-week pilot program transported more than 6,000 migrants at a cost of more than a million dollars and garnered the criticism of Texas lawmakers, who said the flights only shifted the problem into their back yard.
Last year, as a part of the Arizona Border Control Initiative, a $28 million attempt to reduce illegal immigration in Arizona, the Border Patrol worked with the Mexican government to fly migrants to the interior of Mexico. From July through September, the voluntary program returned more than 14,000 migrants at a cost of $15 million, or a little more than a $1,000 per migrant.
Border Patrol officials called last year's program a success and pointed to a drop in heat-related deaths in targeted areas such as the Tohono O'odham Nation. According to Border Patrol statistics, however, overall migrant deaths went up to 172 from 151.
"It's a major embarrassment to the United States that so many people die every year trying to cross our border," said national Border Patrol union president T.J. Bonner, who called the repatriation flights a costly, futile effort. Migrants will keep coming until the government cracks down on the employers that hire them, he said.
"It shows you how powerful business interests are in this country," Bonner said. "If they say they want cheap labor, then they'll get it. Even if it means hundreds of people die crossing the border each year trying to find work."