September 27, 2005
Adele Stan

Enid Doggett

Oral Arguments Start in AFGE Suit on Flawed Personnel System For Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, at the request of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and other unions, will hear oral arguments tomorrow on a motion by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to narrow an injunction issued last month by the court that prevents implementation of key segments of a new personnel system that rolls back longstanding civil service rules in the department. The new rules would render whistleblower protections all but moot. Arguments are scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The unions’ request is the latest legal action in response to a decision by the federal court’s Judge Rosemary M. Collyer to stop DHS from putting into effect new personnel rules that far exceed the mandate given the department by Congress. In the court’s August ruling, Judge Collyer agreed that “significant aspects of the (DHS) [human resource] system fail to conform to the express dictates” of the 2002 legislation that created DHS and authorized the design of a new personnel system.

”What DHS is seeking,” said AFGE Deputy General Counsel Charles Hobbie, “is the end of all meaningful collective bargaining, and a drastic curtailing of the civil service rules that have effectively protected the American citizen from the sort of large-scale government corruption that finds a home in many countries.”

DHS contends that the court’s August decision still permits managers to unilaterally take matters off the bargaining table, despite Judge Collyer’s assertion that the DHS system violates the basic precepts of collective bargaining, which Congress included as an essential element in the new personnel system it authorized DHS to create. The Homeland Security Department also claims the right to diminish the authority of two independent bodies that settle labor and personnel disputes in the federal government: the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), usurping their mandates with an internal board to be appointed by DHS management.

“These new regulations are nothing more than a blatant and illegal power grab by the Administration,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “They run far afield of the authority granted by Congress for the creation of a new, national-security-driven personnel system. Without protected rights to due process, the ability of DHS employees to act as watchdogs within their agencies will be greatly curtailed.”

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