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House Passes Homeland Security Bill

The vote came after a months-long impasse caused by a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over civil-service protection for government employees.

The Republican-controlled House earlier passed the original version of the bill, but it was held up in the Senate where Democrats pressed for more protection for workers.

A deal on the compromise bill was struck on Tuesday between the White House and Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.). The three moderate lawmakers had crafted earlier legislation with stronger worker protections, but finally accepted the administration’s compromise proposal.

The president had originally asked for broad flexibility in hiring and personnel decisions, as well as the ability to revoke workers’ collective bargaining rights in the event of a national emergency. According to news reports, the president got most of what he wanted in the new version of the bill, which will affect around 170,000 federal workers in 22 agencies.

As a part of the compromise, however, the Homeland Security Department would have to negotiate with employees’ unions before any employment rule changes. However, the department retains the power to implement changes it deems necessary even if unions and legislators disagree.

The president can cite national security as a reason for waiving union rights, but must notify Congress and wait 10 days before doing so. Collective bargaining rights could also be waived for a four-year period.

Democratic resistance to the administration’s desire for broad authority over employees waned in the wake of Republican victories on Election Day. Democrats remain in control of the Senate for now because of interim Minnesota Sen. Dean Barkley’s decision not to join either caucus.

Republicans are expected to take over in a matter of weeks, however, when Missouri certifies Republican Sen. Jim Talent’s Nov. 5 election victory.

The Senate began debate on the new bill on Wednesday and is expected to pass it next week.

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