A Potentially Serious Handicap to an Effective Reaction to Terrorism

Posted: Feb 21, 2008 2:59 PM
A Potentially Serious Handicap to an Effective Reaction to Terrorism

As this column has noted repeatedly, much of the Federal bureaucracy continues to march to the beat of its own bloated drum. Wait, make that a union drum. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently lost a struggle to overhaul its bureaucratic personnel system, courtesy of a union lawsuit. DHS announced this past Friday that it will not implement new labor rules it proposed six years ago, and, in the wake of this announcement, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit closed a lawsuit against DHS.

The decision ended a lengthy showdown that began in the summer of 2002. President George W. Bush's Administration wanted to form a new employee system for DHS to allow for more managerial discretion in personnel issues. The Administration originally used the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as an example of why more involvement and oversight by union representatives would be detrimental to national security. In the event of an emergency there may not be sufficient time to allow DHS personnel to notify union representatives of the deployment of union members to new areas. Instead, the Bush Administration proposed the creation of a separate DHS personnel system, which would change everything from employee pay and promotion to disciplinary procedures.

In 2005, DHS and the Office of Personnel Management introduced specific rules for the new personnel system. According to THE WASHINGTON POST, the proposed rules would have allowed DHS to override any provision in a union contract by issuing a Department-wide directive. They also would have made it difficult for unions to negotiate arrangements for staffing, deployments and technology. The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) promptly sued and successfully blocked implementation of the rules when the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in June 2006 that the proposed system violated DHS employees' legal rights to collective bargaining. NTEU also lobbied Congress, which provided no funding for the new system in its Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

In the wake of the announcement that DHS would not overhaul its system, the President of the Union announced that she would continue to oppose any change to the personnel system within DHS. And we wonder why the Federal Government is incapable of either protecting Americans or making appropriate changes to its staid bureaucracy? With friends like these, who needs enemies to do us harm?

More than any other Federal bureaucracy, DHS should have the flexibility to anticipate and respond rapidly to crises. To do so, it should be allowed to promote and deploy those best suited for a situation based upon meritorious performance, skill and knowledge, not pre-arranged union contracts.

The selfishness and lack of foresight displayed in this case is indicative of larger problems conservatives and libertarians face in their pursuit of a smaller, more disciplined and more responsive Federal Government. It is not only politicians and bureaucrats who upon occasion serve as roadblocks to progress; it is some unions and numerous other special-interest groups which place the welfare of the group above that of the larger society. The two drums, it seems, are out of synch and probably impossible to coordinate, leading to a rather haphazard, hesitant and insecure march.