Union laments failed homeland security amendment

By David McGlinchey

The National Treasury Employees Union decried the rejection of an amendment Wednesday in the House Homeland Security Committee that would have provided several protections for Homeland Security Department workers.

Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., brought the amendment forward during the markup session for the Homeland Security authorization bill. Lawmakers rejected the amendment by a vote of 16-11, according to a spokesman from Meek's office.

When Congress established the agency in 2002, officials were given the power to develop their own personnel system. Agency officials have said that they plan to limit the scope of union bargaining, make it easier for managers to discipline poor performers and dismantle the General Schedule pay system. The Meek amendment would have restored collective bargaining avenues and appeals rights for employees and would have guaranteed that salaries for employees switching to the new pay system would not fall below the levels they had under the General Schedule system.

More than 100,000 employees will be covered by the new personnel system.

"The existing rules create a system that is neither fair, credible or transparent - all critical elements if this department is to succeed in its mission," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Thursday. "The failure of the committee to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Meek amendment is disappointing, to say the least."

Kelley said the amendment "would have maintained the flexibility requested by DHS but clarified the employee rights." The amendment also included provisions to substantially increase the budget of the DHS inspector general and guarantee a five-year term for the head of the DHS privacy office.

Meek intends to pursue these issue further, but has no specific plans at this point, according to his office.

"The congressman is going to look at other avenues to make sure that DHS employees have the same rights as other federal employees," said spokesman Drew Hammill. "We have to see what other options are available."