Mica wants to see privately employed screeners who are supervised by federal supervisors.
After 9/11, Congress ordered all but five airports to be screened by federal workers.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, a senior Democrat on the aviation subcommittee, opposes private screeners. He said the differences found in the report are minimal.
Report: Private Airport Screeners Better
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
WASHINGTON — A congressional investigation found airport screeners employed by private companies do a better job detecting dangerous objects than government screeners, according to a House member who has seen the classified report.
The Government Accountability Office (search) found statistically significant evidence that passenger screeners, who work at five airports under a pilot program, perform better than their federal counterparts at some 450 airports, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. and chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said on Tuesday.
"You get a statistically significant improvement if you go to federal supervision with private screening companies," Mica said.
In a separate report issued Tuesday, the inspector general for the Homeland Security Department (search) faulted the Transportation Security Administration (search) for allowing lavish spending on a $19 million crisis management center, including about $500,000 to acquire artwork, silk plants and other decorative and miscellaneous items.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Congress ordered every commercial airport but five to switch from privately employed screeners to a government work force.
The five exceptions — in San Francisco; Tupelo, Miss.; Rochester, N.Y.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Jackson Hole, Wyo. — all have private workers supervised by Transportation Security Administration officials.
Mica wants to see that system at all U.S. airports.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio (search), a senior Democrat on the aviation subcommittee, opposes private screeners.
DeFazio, who has seen the classified GAO report, said the difference between the private and government screeners was statistically significant but still slight.
"Neither number is adequate or reassuring to me and the difference is not very large," DeFazio said.
TSA screeners' ability to find guns, weapons and other dangerous items since the Sept. 11 attacks has been an ongoing concern.
The Homeland Security Department's acting inspector general, Richard Skinner, issued a separate report on Tuesday that said the screeners' performance hadn't improved since the previous audit — which indicated that screeners hadn't improved since before the 2001 terrorist attacks.
In both inspector general audits, undercover agents tried to smuggle fake weapons and bombs past screeners.
Though the screeners were diligent and responsible, Skinner said, "the lack of improvement since our last audit indicates that significant improvement in performance may not be possible without greater use of new technology."
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield Jr. said the TSA has deployed new baggage screening technology at three airports and plans to spend $30 million to install the new machines at 100 more.
The TSA has also installed walk-through bomb detection machines at airports in 15 cities and plans to install them at the 40 busiest airports.
Finally, the agency expects to start testing backscatter machines, which can find plastic weapons and improvised bombs, sometime later this year, Hatfield said.
Congress allowed airports to opt out of the federal system and hire federal screeners as of Nov. 19. Only one airport in Elko, Nev., has asked to use private screeners.
Steve van Beek, executive vice president of the Airports Council International, said airports are interested in using private screeners, but there are still questions about liability if there's a terrorist attack.
Some airports would like to form subsidiaries to run the screening operations, van Beek said, but are prohibited by state law.
There's also a lack of flexibility, he said. "You basically have to ask, 'Can I do it this way, can I do it that way?"'
"Unfortunately, a program that was supposed to be creative and innovative has turned into a 'Mother May I' system," van Beek said.
The Homeland Security inspector general also reported that the project manager and facility operating officer improperly purchased decorative and miscellaneous items for its new crisis management center in Herndon, Va. They kept the nature of the purchases hidden by charging them to the construction contract as "equipment and tools," according to the report.
The project spent $252,392 on artwork, $29,032 on art consultants, $30,085 on silk plants and $13,861 on lamps and other equipment, the report said. The vendor added a 20 percent markup, a credit for future purchases and overpayments that totaled more than $174,000.
The project manager, facilities operation officer and an employee of the Transportation Security Operations Center also used the government purchase card to buy furniture and personal items, including loveseats, armoires, leather briefcases and coffee pots, the report said.
While the center was being built, the project manager made decisions "that appear wasteful," the report said. It cited offices and workspaces larger than standards permitted; televisions with cable service in 45 of 55 offices; seven kitchens with appliances that included dishwashers, icemakers and $3,000 refrigerators; and a 4,200-square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service for 79 federal employees.
"Our recommendations emphasize the need for TSA to adhere to disciplined decision-making processes to ensure that projects are implemented at acceptable costs and that procurement practices are consistent with statutes, regulations and rules," the report said.
Nurses advocate disclosure on staffing
By RANDOLPH HEASTER
The shortage of nurses in the health-care industry continues to be an issue of concern — and debate.
The nurses' union in Kansas City thinks one way to address the problem is to make hospitals report their nurse-patient staffing ratios.
Registered nurses, including representatives from Nurses United for Improved Patient Care, testified earlier this month before a Missouri House of Representatives committee in support of a bill that would require public disclosure.
“Understaffing is one of our biggest worries because it's so dangerous to patients,” said Cheryl Thompson, a nurse and Nurses United chapter president at Medical Center of Independence. “I want to provide my patients with the best care possible but I can't answer the call button as quickly as they would like because I have too many patients to care for. Patients and their families need to know what the staffing levels are and how current levels hurt the quality of care that they and their loved ones receive.”
House Bill 802, called the Public Disclosure Law, would require hospitals to report daily the ratio of patients to nurses and other patient-care employees at each unit of the facility.
Mary Nash, president of Nurses United in Kansas City, said federal law already requires nursing homes to do this.
“This is consumer protection at its best,” Nash recently wrote in a column published in The Kansas City Star. “Patients would have the information to select the best-staffed, and therefore the safest, hospital.”
Nurses United said a survey of more than 5,000 registered nurses in the Kansas City area showed that 78 percent think the law needs to be enacted immediately to ensure safe nurse-patient staffing levels. Nash said such disclosure could force hospitals with inadequate staffing to address the issue.
Also supporting Nurses United in testimony was the Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
Thompson discussed his mother's hospital experience before her death nearly two years ago.
“The nurses that care for my mother were compassionate and diligent, but there were just not enough of them,” he said. “In essence, she was unable to receive the kind of care that she deserved and that the nurses wanted to give her.”
Nurses United, an affiliate of AFT Healthcare, represents nurses at three area hospitals operated by HCA Midwest
Democrats choose council candidates for ’05 election
All new faces running for the three open Township Council seats
BY JENNIFER DOME
BRICK — The Brick Township Democratic Municipal Committee has announced its slate of candidates for the 2005 Township Council race.
The council seats now held by Kathy Russell, Gregory Kavanagh and Fred Underwood, all Democrats, are up for grabs in this year’s election. Kavanagh and Underwood have already announced they will not seek re-election. And, after Monday’s announcement by Mayor Joseph Scarpelli that he will not seek re-election, Russell has stepped up to run for the mayor’s seat.
Because of the recent events, the Democrats will have a new lineup for the council seats — William M. McGuire, Susanne P. Dyer and Anthony W. Lazroe.
McGuire is director of Health, Human Services and Human Resources for Dover Township. Previously he was an assistant principal at Brick Memorial High School and the district’s athletic director after spending 25 years as a teacher. He also coached the girls track and field and cross country teams for more than 20 years. McGuire ran for the Township Council in 2003 and lost. He is divorced and has three children and three grandchildren.
Dyer, a resident of Brick for more than five years, works as a national representative of the American Federation of Government Employees. She previously worked for the United Way of Mercer County and was president of the Communication Workers of America Local 1039. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Dyer and her husband, Richard, have a 4-year-old son, Ian.
Lazroe is the development coordinator within the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University. From 1984 to 1992 he was the director of community services for Brick Township. Lazroe is divorced with three daughters and a grandson.
“We started the process this year with 18 qualified individuals who wanted to run for office. This was one of the most difficult selection processes I’ve had in my tenure as municipal chairman, simply due to the plethora of quality candidates,” said Michael Blandina, who is chairman of the Brick Township Democratic Municipal Committee.
Democratic Club President Harvey Langer said in a press release from the party, “We are very fortunate to have individuals of this caliber willing to fight to make Brick Township a better place to live and raise a family.”
McGuire, Dyer and Lazroe will run for the three open council seats against Republican candidates Domenick Brando, Joseph Sangiovanni and Daniel Toth. Russell will face Republican Stephen Acropolis in the race for the mayor’s seat.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is sounding alarm after learning that the Voice of America has proposed shifting certain "English news" positions from the United States to Hong Kong.
"In what would have been considered an April Fools' joke if presented . . . earlier, VOA Director David Jackson announced at a morning meeting that the positions of the overnight English news writers would now be located in Hong Kong," the union states.
Sources are quoted as saying Jackson supports the move "because it would save money."
AFGE Local 1812 questions why the VOA's English news broadcasts "should be written by non-Americans in a foreign country. Also, should American taxpayer dollars be used to provide jobs for noncitizens overseas?"
Citing frustration, leader of Border Patrol union quits
By Sara A. Carter
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 - The president of the largest union representing Border Patrol agents has resigned, citing the organization's failing bureaucracy and lack of support from the Bush administration.
Beyond Borders: A Special Report on Immigration
Joseph Dassaro, who since 2000 has been president of the National Border Patrol Council's Local 1613, which represents nearly 2,500 agents in the San Diego sector, sent out a farewell letter Monday morning.
Dassaro, who has been a Border Patrol agent for 13 years, will leave the agency by May 1 as part of his resignation agreement. Chris Bauder, a border agent and friend of Dassaro's, will take over as president of Local 1613.
Dassaro's letter cited frustration among border agents and a draconian Border Patrol system with little hope of reform as two of the reasons for his departure.
"My worst fear is that they are going to turn Border Patrol agents into what is analogous of a 7-Eleven security guard," Dassaro said from his home in San Diego. "The time for niceties is over. The time for blunt talk is now."
Dassaro said he was directing his statements at an administration set on dismantling the Border Patrol. The final straw came last week when the Department of Homeland Security terminated the 35-day detail limit on agents, Dassaro said.
The limit stopped the department from working agents longer than 35 days on assignment away from home, he said. The original agreement also stopped agents from being transferred to different sectors on a moment's notice, he said.
"It's easy to overlook the agents who are out there working," Dassaro said. "Nobody ever puts a face to the agency. The government is completely denigrating their job positions. Eventually, many agents will leave the border patrol."
In a letter to T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, another agents' union, Sheila H. Brown, director of the labor relations division of the Department of Homeland Security, said the department's decision to terminate the 35 day limit was non-negotiable and based on homeland security issues.
Dassaro argued that the new policy abuses employees' rights and in his farewell letter wrote, "I watched the Border Patrol mature into something it should not be: one of the most inefficient and misleading agencies in the history of government."
He said he will continue to advocate for Border Patrol agents. He has agreed to join Friends of the Border Patrol, a civilian organization in Chino supporting border agents, as a consultant. Dassaro also has offered his services to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Andy Ramirez, executive director of Friends of the Border Patrol, said he is happy to have Dassaro consulting for his group, but Dassaro's resignation did not surprise him.
"It saddens me and it enrages me," Ramirez said. "This is somebody with 13 years of training. You can't replace that."
Pentagon rethinks civilian personnel rules
By TIM KAUFFMAN
The Defense Department is re-evaluating several of the most controversial features in its proposal to rewrite personnel rules affecting 746,000 civilian workers, officials testified before House and Senate committees.
One proposal that now appears unlikely to be included in the final rules would have allowed managers to forgo written performance plans for the employees they supervise. Defense officials also told lawmakers they will review a proposal to make it more difficult for the Merit Systems Protection Board to reduce disciplinary actions for poor conduct or performance. And they said they would reassess the composition of a proposed new internal department board to handle labor disputes.
All those areas have been cited by lawmakers, good government groups and others as areas in which Defense went too far in its attempts to craft more flexible personnel rules to better meet its national security mission.
Officials from the department and unions, which represent about 60 percent of Pentagon employees, were to begin formal talks on April 18 on the draft rules Defense issued in February. Navy Secretary Gordon England, who has been heading the development and rollout of the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), said the final rules will be fleshed out with more details and revised based on those discussions, comments received during an earlier public review phase and subsequent input from lawmakers.
“DoD is absolutely committed to developing NSPS in a fair, transparent and open manner,” England said April 14 in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Still, Defense is likely to face an uphill battle. Unions are challenging the proposed rules in court, arguing that Defense violated the spirit and letter of the 2003 law that authorized the creation of the new system by severely limiting which workplace decisions are subject to collective bargaining. Managers no longer would need to bargain with unions before changing an employee’s work assignment, detailing an employee to another location, introducing new technologies or making other departmentwide changes that affect the mission of the department.
Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, both asked England to pinpoint whether specific areas, including overtime rules and changes in employees’ shifts, would be subject to collective bargaining. England said those details will be discussed with unions during the mandatory 30-day review phase that began April 18. He added that what’s eligible for collective bargaining could vary based on the circumstances of the changes being made.
The lack of details worries many observers. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said it was troubling the proposed regulations don’t say how the department will set new pay scales, reclassify employees into new job categories and calculate annual raises. Defense plans to issue those details through directives that won’t be subject to the same level of public scrutiny as the regulations.
“I don’t know how you can expect employees to have confidence in this system when there’s so much left unanswered,” Clinton said.
One of the Government Accountability Office’s main concerns is the lack of details in the regulations. Comptroller General David Walker said the proposed regulations don’t include adequate measures to ensure fairness and guard against abuse, specify how employees will be told what’s expected of them or allow for continued involvement by employees in the rollout of the new system.
Defense officials had said having performance expectations in writing could make it more difficult for managers to assign employees different tasks as needs change during the year, but some observers said written performance plans give employees needed direction and help protect managers from complaints of favoritism during the annual appraisal process.
“The first time this system goes into place large scale and there are differences in how pay is made without written appraisals, you will not be able to count the lawsuits,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., during an April 12 hearing before the House Government Reform subcommittee on the federal work force and agency organization.
England said the final rules will include a provision requiring that employees and managers agree in writing on measurable performance objectives at the start of each year.
“This is the heart of the system,” he said. “We’re working hard to make sure we have a fair and credible system.”
England also vowed to review a proposal that would severely limit MSPB’s authority to mitigate disciplinary actions. Under the proposed rules, which mirror those approved for the Homeland Security Department, the board could reduce penalties only when they are so extreme as to be “wholly without justification” based on the conduct or performance.
Lawmakers from both parties have joined with the unions in calling the new standard unlawful.
In addition, England said the department would consider seriously complaints from lawmakers and others regarding an internal labor relations board that would be created to hear and resolve labor disputes. The board, which would replace the independent Federal Labor Relations Authority, would be comprised of three members appointed and subject to removal by the Defense secretary.
Critics have said board members should be selected with input from employee representatives and should serve independent of the Defense secretary.
“It’s not going to be perceived as an independent board if the secretary is making all of the appointments without input from employees,” Collins said.
Pentagon, union officials try hashing out differences over NSPS
By TICHAKORN HILL
Defense Department officials have begun meeting with labor unions this week in an effort to hammer out disagreements over the department’s proposed new personnel system, called the National Security Personnel System.
Pentagon and union officials will meet repeatedly over a 30-day period that began April 18. Unions are outraged at the proposed system which severely limits their influence on workplace decisions. They are also concerned about the proposed pay system that would reward employees based on their performance. They said managers are not well trained to evaluate their supervisees.
Unions are also challenging the proposed system in court, arguing Defense violated the spirit and letter of the 2003 law that authorized the creation of the new personnel system by severely limiting which workplace decisions are subject to collective bargaining. Under the proposed rules, managers no longer would need to bargain with unions before changing an employee’s work assignment, detailing an employee to another location, introducing new technologies or making other changes.
David Chu, Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said April 18 the new personnel system will help make Defense civilians “a strong, viable option” for the department.
He said the department also is looking at the idea of basing promotion decisions for officers upon performance.
“We need officers that are good at what they do,” Chu said in an address before the Navy’s annual work force research and analysis conference in Arlington, Va.
Defense has asked Congress to authorize the creation of a pilot program to test performance-based promotions for military officers at small military units. Chu, however, did not elaborate on how he’s going to do that.
If it is successful, Chu said he may apply performance-based promotions to enlisted members as well.