Union officials and their allies in Congress, anxious for any excuse to attack President Bush, are making an issue of the fact that the legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security contains a provision allowing the President to exempt some of the Department's employees from some civil service protections, notably union representation.
Several things about this are well worth noting. The bill containing the provision is authored by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and cosponsored by five of his colleagues, only one of whom is a Republican.
The civil service law giving the President this power, The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, was proposed by a Democratic President and approved by a Democratic Congress. Liberal Democratic Senators like Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland voted for it, as did all of their Democratic colleagues. It was approved by a vote of 87 to 1. A Republican cast the lone dissenting vote.
In passing the civil service law Congress exempted agencies like the FBI and the CIA and "any Executive agency or unit thereof the principal function of which is the conduct of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence activities" from its provisions, and for good reason. There is an inherent conflict between the type of civil service protections provided by this act and the requirements of national security.
The country can't afford the luxury of having our leaders who are responsible for the nation's security second-guessed by union officials at every turn, or faced with prolonged union negotiations over matters like assignments based on seniority or removal of incompetents, when immediate action is needed.
The Civil Service law has now been in effect for more than two decades and there is no evidence that the employees of the agencies exempt from its unionism provision are concerned about that, nor that they are suffering as a result.
What seems to be bothering the unions and the politicians who sup at the union political table is that some employees who are not presently exempt will be transferred into the new department where they probably won't continue to pay union dues.
There is good reason to believe that unionism is not a high priority for most federal employees. The largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, likes to brag about "representing" more than 600,000 federal workers. What they don't tell you is that they actually have less than 200,000 members. Union recognition standards in federal employment are incredibly loose. They allow the zealous few to impose unionism on the majority.
September 11th changed a lot of things. We, as a nation, are coming to realize that we are faced with a new enemy and that we must make some sacrifices in a new war that is unlike anything we have faced before. Hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal employees understand this and are responding courageously to the country's needs.
The controversy about applying civil service law to employees of the new Department of Homeland Security is inspired by rank political opportunism and outrageous union self-interest.
If union representation is the issue, federal employees certainly deserve better representation than this.
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David Denholm is the president of the Public Service Research Foundation, a nonprofit research and education organization concerned with unionism in public employment and union influence on public policy.