August 28, 2002
Scott Treibitz
(703) 276-2772 x11
Diane S. Witiak
(202) 639-6419

New Report Shows Bush Administration Already Has The 'Flexibility' Needed for Homeland Security

(Washington, D.C.)-The Bush Administration already has the authority it needs in personnel matters to structure a highly effective new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to a report (PDF) issued today by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The report brings together pertinent sections of federal statutes, the Civil Service Act and case law to show that existing management prerogatives give the Bush Administration maximum flexibility in personnel matters assuring our nation's safety.

"President Bush says he needs more flexibility for the Secretary of Homeland Security to be able to act quickly in times of national emergency," said AFGE National President Bobby Harnage Sr. in releasing the report. "In fact, federal managers have all the flexibility they need. We see the Administration's use of 'flexibility' as a code word for denial of due process to federal employees."

After the Labor Day recess, Congress will finish deciding the shape of the new department. The House has already passed its version, which includes the Bush Administration's demand for elimination of Title 5 of the Civil Service Act, which guarantees collective bargaining rights for federal employees. AFGE favors S. 2452, still pending in the Senate, which retains Title 5.

"No one is more interested in making their homeland secure than the federal employees who put their lives on the line every day of the year," Harnage said. "Homeland security is not a hobby for us. It's our life and our livelihood. We are not going to let President Bush make us the scapegoats in holding up the new department."

"Americans recognize the necessity of due process as essential to our belief in the rule of law," said Harnage. "The Administration says it believes in whistleblower protections for federal employees because that right is immensely popular among Americans. But the elimination of Title 5 would kill the union protections federal employees need in order to feel free to speak up when they see waste, fraud or abuse."

"Even if none of the 80 management prerogatives listed in the new AFGE report existed, managers would still have the latitude Bush is now demanding," said Harnage. "Two special provisions allow the suspension of all other personnel rights in emergencies or matters concerning national security."

Many of the same federal employment features cited by the AFGE are also emphasized in the handbook Human Resource Flexibilities and Authorities in the Federal Government (PDF). The Bush Administration's Office of Personnel Management (OPM) updated that handbook in July 2001 and it tells new Bush appointees "you may be surprised how flexible title 5 is in meeting your organizational needs." That handbook leaves the Bush administration damning itself out of its own mouth," Harnage said. "They are either ignorant of the existing laws or they are trying to break the union."

Harnage cited the contrast between Air Marshals and Border Patrol agents to show the importance of union protections for federal employees seeking to correct serious problems. Since 1978 the Federal Marshal program has been designed just the way Bush wants, with no rights to union representation and the marshals forbidden to speak publicly about the program's mistakes.

After September 11 that once elite corps was overrun with unbearable shifts, thousands of untrained new co-workers (one of whom discharged a firearm inflight) and suffered horrendous mishaps like falling asleep on the job. Supervisors ignored them and, with nowhere else to turn, some marshals risked their jobs to take their story anonymously to USA Today to seek the changes necessary for safe air travel. In contrast, Border Patrol agents, with union backup for their whistleblower rights, got constructive changes when they report lax security on the Canadian border.

"The air marshals example is a brutal reminder of what can happen when federal employees have nowhere to turn when they see something wrong going on," said Harnage. "Without federal worker protections, they can't blow the whistle and we are left with skies just as dangerous as they were on September 11."

The AFGE report shows that existing regulations pose no legal impediment that would create delays in filling vacancies, from either inside or outside the federal service. And once employees are on board, managers can use a highly flexible system of financial benefits-promotions, step increases, incentive awards and retention and relocation bonuses-to mold an efficient agency.

Because of previous experience with program changes, lack of funding, privatization or other restructuring, the federal system has also developed a variety of ways through which positions can be eliminated, the report shows. One of the biggest sections in the report cites the 35 instances that can lead to termination of federal employees, including immediate removal from the workplace for serious misconduct.

"The Administration is overlooking the tremendous desire of government employees to make DHS work perfectly, because of their pride in the country and in their work," Harnage said. "Our members don't theorize about improving security; they live it because of their own experiences with terrorism, both in Oklahoma City and on September 11."

Harnage said the report makes clear that "there is no problem with a lack of authority for federal managers. Our message is 'get on with the job.' If the Administration would stop trying to mislead the nation about the nature of federal employment, we could pass the legislation and put our energies into building the security our citizens need and deserve."

Statement by AFGE National President Bobby L. Harnage, Sr

Statement by T.J. Bonner

Statement by Denise Dukes

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