WASHINGTON, DC—On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today called on the Bush Administration to create a fair personnel system for the dedicated employees from some 22 former government agencies who were brought together to form the new department. Gage made the statement in response to President Bush’s remarks to DHS workers in which he lauded homeland security employees for meeting the challenges of the post 9-11 world.
“Even as he praised DHS workers—many of whom belong to unions—his Administration is hard at work on a personnel plan that, if enacted, will greatly limit workers’ rights to union representation,” Gage explained. “And this they do in the name of national security.
“Answer me this, Mr. President,” Gage continued. “If, as you contended in your speech today, the employees of the Homeland Security Department ‘have passed every test’ laid before them in the last year, how then have their bargaining and appeal rights—the rights most at risk in the Administration’s plan--impeded our national security? This is the one question for which the Administration never has an answer. They know that the firefighters and cops who ran into the burning towers of the World Trade Center were union members—and that only enhanced their cohesion as brothers and sisters united in their cause. They know that the AFGE members working for FEMA--workers who pulled round-the-clock shifts at both 9-11 sites--never hesitated in their work tending to the families of victims.”
Gage’s remarks today follow a report released last week by the Democratic Caucus of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security that decries the lack of adequate funding and staffing levels at the department. Among the report’s recommendations is a call for the lifting of the hiring cap imposed on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is part of DHS, as well as aggressive hiring of border patrol officers and immigration inspectors to meet the levels set by Congress. The report says that current staffing levels are “far below” the congressional targets.
I was pleased to hear the president acknowledge the ‘job well done’ performed by the men and women of DHS,” Gage concluded. “But the ‘gold star’ he conferred upon workers for their efforts doesn’t give DHS employees what they really need to adequately ensure homeland security: more border inspectors, adequate funding and full union rights.