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As unfolding scandal indicates, Bush is right on Homeland Security

By Christopher Burger
web posted November 4, 2002

Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, Zaccarias Moussaoui, John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and... Tom Daschle?

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) is no terrorist. Nor is he a terrorist sympathizer. But he is refusing to grant the President the ability to fire federal employees tasked with protecting the safety of the American people should they prove to be incompetent. As an unfolding scandal within the State Department indicates, Daschle's actions could make it easier for terrorists to do their evil work.

The White House and the Senate are wrangling over a bill to combine 22 agencies and approximately 170,000 employees to create a federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Daschle demands that approximately 43,000 of those employees, currently covered under union agreements, be protected not only from unsafe working conditions, discrimination and retribution for whistle-blowing, but also in many cases from being fired if they fail to perform their jobs properly. 1

Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge, who is in a position to know, says Daschle's demands would dangerously limit the power of this president, and all future presidents, to waive union agreements when national security is at stake. Presidents have had this power since the Kennedy Administration, when it was put in place by an executive order from JFK - a Democrat. 2

As Ridge told the U.S. Conference of Mayors, "A time of war is no time to limit the president's ability to protect national security." 3

The two largest government unions have given 93 percent of their political contributions this election cycle to Daschle's Democratic Party. 4 Control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs, with organized labor is key to the Democratic Party's critical get-out-the-vote efforts. If Daschle's tenacious opposition to keeping the best people in charge of our security isn't political, upon what could it possibly be based?

Bush's position is that performance should never take a back seat to seniority when work assignments that involve the safety of our nation are decided. 5 If the U.S. Senate is serious about winning the war on terrorism, it should be the Senate's position as well. The issue is not academic. Incompetence - some even say criminal negligence - on the part of federal employees helped make the terrorist events last September possible.

An unfolding investigation has revealed that had federal employees at the State Department followed the law when processing visa applications for the September 11 terrorists, at least 15 of the 19 hijackers never would have been granted visas. Had these terrorists-in-planning not been granted these visas, they would not have been able to hijack U.S. domestic airliners and use them to kill thousands of Americans.

The investigation, by National Review's Joel Mowbray and the cover story in that magazine's October 28 issue, examined 15 of the 19 applicable visa applications. Of the 15, an astounding 100 percent should have been denied based on U.S. law in effect at the time the visas were granted. 6

This is not the only case of September 11 negligence. As most Americans know by now, terrorist Mohamed Atta received an upgraded visa from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), a division of the State Department, six months after he died in the September 11 attacks. 7 If employees of the INS can't - or won't - catch terrorists before their attacks, surely it is not too much to ask that they withhold visa renewals thereafter.

Of course, most - we hope - State Department employees are competent and hard-working. They, like all other Americans, deserve better than the public servants who ignored the law and let the September 11 terrorists into America.

For that reason, President Bush deserves support in his effort to retain the executive branch's 30-year-old authority to fire and transfer incompetent federal employees when national security is at stake. The only thing more tragic than another terrorist attack on our soil would be the knowledge that we could have prevented it - and didn't.

Footnotes:

1 "Battle for Homeland Security," Associated Press, September 26, 2002, downloaded from http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,64179,00.html on September 27, 2002.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 "Study Links Delays, Changes in Homeland Security Bill to Government Union Campaign Contributions," press release, National Taxpayers Union, Alexandria, Virginia, August 7, 2002 downloaded from http://www.ntu.org/news_room/press_releases/P0208ntu_ib_139.php3 on October 2, 2002.

5 "Democrat's Homeland Security Bill Fails," Associated Press, September 19, 2002, downloaded from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,63609,00.html on September 26, 2002.

6 Joel Mowbray, "Visas that Should Not Have Been Granted," National Review Online, October 9, 2002, downloaded from http://www.nationalreview.com/mowbray/mowbray100902.asp on October 10, 2002.

7 Carl Hiaasen, "Atta's Visa: Typical Example of INS Inefficiency," The Miami Herald, March 17, 2002 downloaded from http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/columnists/carl_hiaasen/2868267.htm on October 4, 2002.

Christopher Burger is program director of the John P. McGovern M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to cburger@nationalcenter.org.

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