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Lame Ducks Do Fly

November 14, 2002



A compromise on a homeland security bill was the first order of business as a lame-duck session got under way on Capitol Hill after the midterm elections.

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The GOP's soon-to-be majority status in both houses no doubt helped deflate the demands of most Democrats for tough civil-service safeguards for the proposed department's federal workers (170,000-strong in the combined 22 agencies).

The fact that a bill will soon pass is a victory for Americans who have longed to see government coordinate its defenses and responses to terrorism following Sept. 11.

Democrats were seen as obfuscators for taking the side of government unions (which are a heavy presence in the party). Their view, and the party's share of blame in delaying passage of the bill, obviously didn't play well at the ballot box. Three centrist Democrats now have helped push for compromise wording which, in the end, did come some way toward awarding labor greater rights.

The bill would give workers in the new department modified civil-service protections, including whistle-blower protection, and require the president to renew a collective bargaining exemption every four years.

A federal mediation board will rule on the new department's personnel provisions (which give unions a voice at the table), but the administration also was given power to overrule the board's decision.

Some of the bureaucracy-laden procedures in hiring, firing, and promotion were also eliminated, thus giving the president the flexibility to create an effective department. And he'll be able to waive labor agreements in the interest of national security.

Building the third-largest department in the federal government - involving the largest reorganization of agencies since World War II - into a functioning entity is a tall order. The need to coordinate intelligence gathering and analysis still remains, and the decision not to include the FBI and CIA in the new department will need be tested soon.

Still, bringing many federal workers charged with defending the US against terrorism onto the same turf should begin to resolve many of the issues involved in this war.

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