Daily Breeze

October 17, 2002

Harman joins group pushing for new agency 
LEGISLATION: The White House and Senate Democrats are locked in a battle over union concerns for Homeland Security department. 

By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, joined a group of House lawmakers Wednesday urging the Senate and the White House to settle their differences over the creation of a new Homeland Security Department.


Harman, the top Democrat on the House terrorism and homeland security subcommittee, was an early advocate of such a department. Legislation to create it has been sidelined by squabbling between the Bush administration and Senate Democrats over the status of unions at the new agency.


“Sadly, the blame game is trumping security,” said Harman, who was joined at a news conference by three House Republicans who have played prominent roles on the issue. “The Senate is bogged down on an issue that should not cause this legislation to die.”


The dispute centers on Bush’s ability to remove employees from their union contracts. Senate Democrats want to impose limits on his authority, particularly for workers whose jobs don’t change when they are transferred to the new department and for those who don’t deal directly with investigations or intelligence.


The House passed legislation in July that kept Bush’s authority intact.


Harman said the Senate should be allowed to vote on alternative civil service provisions, enact one and send the bill to a House-Senate conference committee that can negotiate differences with the White House.


“Every president since John Kennedy has had the flexibility to exempt agencies from collective bargaining for national security reasons. The flexibility has been applied 11 times over 23 years. Surely this experience can help us find a compromise all parties can support,” she said.


“My bottom line is the House faced some difficult issues but we resolved them and moved ahead,” added Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “There is no reason in the world that the Senate cannot do the same.”


Republicans control the House while Democrats control the Senate.


The lawmakers issued their challenge a day after the White House and Senate Democrats traded potshots on the issue. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge called the Senate Democrats’ position “perverse.”


But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the administration is trying to “politicize this issue” to gain advantage in the November election. Control of the Senate and House is at stake, and polls show Republicans have an edge with voters on national security issues. To underline their call for action on the legislation, Harman and the other House members pointed to recent terrorist attacks overseas and the breakup of alleged terrorist cells in Oregon and New York.


The new department would incorporate all or part of 22 federal agencies and have nearly 170,000 employees. Bush proposed the department in June in the face of strong congressional pressure to act.