Originally created 09/07/02

Demos peril security



Should a chief executive officer have the power to fire or demote poor-performing employees, hire new ones, move workers to where they'll be the most useful, and adjust salary scales?

Most CEOs have such authority, but not the president of the United States - not if the Democrat-controlled Senate has anything to say about it, and it does.

Indeed, the Homeland Security bill, which President Bush hoped to have on his desk by the Sept. 11 anniversary, is bogged down in a Senate floor debate over, of all things, government union issues.

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., leading the charge for the GOP, says the powers Bush seeks are crucial in an agency expected to act swiftly against domestic terrorism. Or, to put it another way, the president rightly wants a homeland security department that can be as quick and agile in changing course or adapting to new, unanticipated conditions as the terrorists are.

If the executive branch is denied this versatility, says Thompson, the Homeland Security secretary could become mired in personnel problems that would stifle the agency's effectiveness by turning it into a giant, immobile, inoperable bureaucracy. No, thanks - we're trying to quit.

The whole point of creating a Homeland Security Department was to streamline the federal government by rolling into the agency about two dozen existing federal bureaucracies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and Coast Guard.

Common sense suggests that if the new, enlarged bureaucracy is to function lean and mean as intended, it must be allowed the flexibility that Senate Democrats seem determined to deny it. About 43,000 potential Homeland Security workers are members of 17 unions - the largest being the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.

It is unconscionable for the Senate leaders to put special interest union politics ahead of the national interest. Unless Bush gets what he wants - or at least most of what he wants - he should follow through on his threat to veto the Homeland Security bill because if the Democrats prevail, the measure would actually weaken the battle against domestic terrorists.

For instance, Senate leaders also are trying to kill an existing presidential power that permits government units to be exempt from labor agreements for reasons of national security.

Senate Democrats do, however, have one issue in their favor - making the Homeland Security director a Cabinet secretary so he or she would be subject to Senate confirmation and available for congressional questioning. Bush says he'll also veto the bill if this provision is in it, but that would be a mistake.

If he gets the labor issues resolved the way he wants, then he should sign the measure.