AFGE National President Testifies on DHS Personnel Issues
(WASHINGTON)—A commitment by the current administration and Congress to ensure better treatment of Department of Homeland Security employees, obtain full-funding, and end privatization can help reverse the low morale at the agency, American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage said before Congress on March 5 (testimony attached).
AFGE represents approximately 40,000 DHS employees, not including 10,000 Transportation Security Administration employees—more than 25 percent of its workforce—who are dues-paying members but are not part of a bargaining unit. AFGE years ago won the fight for Transportation Security Officers to be allowed to join the union; however, those workers still are denied basic workplace rights.
“The ‘fierce urgency of now’ compels immediate action by the Obama administration and Congress on behalf of Transportation Security Officers,” Gage said. “AFGE repeatedly has, and continues to urge Congress to support efforts by President Obama to rescind the directive denying TSOs their rights by granting TSOs the same collective bargaining rights and workplace protections as those afforded other workers in DHS. We greatly appreciate the leadership of Chairman Bennie Thompson, Chairman Christopher Carney, Chairwoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and Representative Nita Lowey in working so hard toward that same end.
“AFGE urges the Committee to continue its efforts to repeal the Aviation and Transportation Security Act footnote placing such overreaching discretion in the hands of the TSA administrator, and once and for all to place the 40,000 members of the TSO workforce under Title 5 protections—including the General Schedule for wages and promotions,” Gage added.
In his written testimony, Gage made recommendations for other DHS agencies, including:
FEMA: Under the Bush administration, marginally qualified executives allowed FEMA’s capabilities to deteriorate and FEMA’s budget and resources were cannibalized. AFGE’s FEMA Council recommends closely examining all recent hirings, promotions, realignments and contracts; reviewing qualifications and performance of all GS-14s and above who have been brought in since 2005; talk with FEMA employees and unions; and research how former FEMA Director James Witt turned around the agency in 1993.
Border Patrol: Border Patrol agents need and deserve improvements in training, pay and incentives to remain with the agency rather than take their law enforcement skills elsewhere. Border Patrol has suffered under the organization structure that places it under CBP. Border Patrol should be an independent bureau within DHS, and granted full operational control of all its assets so that the mission of border security would not be compromised by having to compete within its own agency for resources and strategic focus.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: ICE agents deserve an upgrade from the GS-9 position to a GS-11 and are prepared to follow new policy initiatives with respect to such issues as worksite enforcement, such as the Obama Administration orders. AFGE is working with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House Immigration Reform Caucus to develop legislation to be introduced shortly.
Federal Protective Service: Although DHS placed the Federal Protective Service (FPS) under Immigration and Customs Enforcement, federal building security is largely unrelated to the rest of the agency’s homeland security functions. There is no evidence that inclusion in this agency has been beneficial for federal building security, and there is much evidence that it has not. FPS should be made an independent agency within DHS. In addition, Congress should provide funding so that the agency can meet the 2001 minimum standard of 1,200 boots-on-the-ground law enforcement officers.
Citizenship and Immigration Services: Because the agency’s funding is so precarious and unpredictable, and is so disconnected from the actual costs of carrying out its mission, funding becomes an important factor in the way CIS employees are treated. Fee funding has institutionalized high turnover, extremely long-term temporary assignments, and wasted training dollars since long before DHS was created. We urge Congress to provide funding for the agency so that it can invest in workforce stability, training, and new technology that will allow adjudicators not only to continue working to reduce the backlog, but to make sure that new backlogs do not develop.
Coast Guard: We ask that the Congress instruct the Coast Guard that it should not undertake random Full Time Equivalents reductions under the guise of Modernization if such cuts will undermine the agency’s ability to carry out its mission. We also ask that the agency not be permitted to exclude the costs of conducting these studies from its “savings” estimates. Hiring contractors to undertake the study and taking Coast Guard employees away from their regular duties imposes genuine costs on the agency. Further, since the Coast Guard has not demonstrated a willingness to do the right thing, we request that the agency be reminded of its bargaining obligations as it undertakes changes in the context of Business Process Reengineering.
“DHS is fortunate to have a large cadre of dedicated employees who possess a wealth of experience and creative energy and they are eager to give their all to fulfill the department’s crucial domestic security mission,” Gage said. “They have done so under the most trying circumstances, and can do even more if the distraction of hostile management bent on the elimination of collective bargaining, the General Schedule pay system, and their civil service protections is ended. Add to that a commitment to obtaining the proper level of funding, an end to privatization reviews, and a fair and rational allocation of resources and the Department of Homeland Security will be second to none.”
Gage’s testimony was part of a House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Investigations and Oversight hearing on “Putting People First: A Way Forward for the Homeland Security Workforce.”