Enid Doggett (202) 639-6419 Adele M. Stan (202) 639-6448
Anniversary of Terrorist Attacks Calls Questions About Homeland Security Priorities, Says Union Council President
(WASHINGTON, DC)—As the nation prepares to commemorate the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge claims that great strides have been made in protecting the homeland through the use of new technologies and new protocols for both preventing and responding to a terrorist attack. While the nation is better prepared today to meet a terrorist incident, a lack of investment in the human resources side of the security equation exposes the homeland to unnecessary danger, asserts Charles Showalter, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Homeland Security Council.
Among the new protocols cited by Ridge in his speech this week to the National Press Club was a program called "One Face at the Border," which has combined the highly specialized duties of three different kinds of inspectors—agriculture, immigration and customs—into a single position in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
"To officers of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, this program is known as 'One Farce at the Border,'" Showalter said. "The reasoning behind this new protocol exposes the weakness that officers and agents in the field feel throughout the department: lots of dollars thrown at management consultants and new technologies while human resources are given short shrift. To expect a biologist who came into the department as an agriculture inspector to become an instant expert in immigration law enforcement is absurd.
"Nowhere in his speech did Secretary Ridge mention the department-wide hiring freeze that makes our nation less—not more—safe," Showalter continued. "However, while side-stepping a question about whether the department represents a new wing in the military-industrial complex, he neglected to mention the $175 million contract the department just awarded Northrop Grumman, a major defense contractor, to administer the agency's human resource system.
"Wouldn't the nation be safer if that money went into ensuring that officers in the field had the tools and training they need?" Showalter added. "Wouldn't we all be better off if the nation's ports of entry were fully staffed with well trained, veteran inspectors?"
"At the nation's airports, the department has seen the wisdom of maintain multiple layers of overlapping security," Showalter concluded. "There we position TSA screeners on the ground, and air marshals on board aircraft. Why are we deliberately reducing our effectiveness at the border?"
In a survey recently conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for AFGE, 64 percent of the Customs and Border Protection officers interviewed said they have not been given the "tools, training and support" they need to get the job done.
For survey results, go to: http://www.afge.org/index.cfm?page=homelansecurity&fuse=document&DocumentID=503
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 750,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.