The government's homeland security programs will be no more effective than the people responsible for them, a Republican group said yesterday.
In a blueprint for the first 100 days of the new Department of Homeland Security, the Republican Main Street Partnership said deploying the right employees with the right skills would be a critical factor, especially in the areas of intelligence, border security, law enforcement, public health, transportation and nuclear safety.
"This thing is not going to work unless we effectively utilize the tremendous skills of our federal employees," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), a leader of the group.
The congressional debate over civil service protections and union rights left many of the 170,000 employees transferring into the new department with "a very real concern that we will view them as part of the problem instead of the solution. . . . They shouldn't feel that way. We view them as a major part of the solution," Shays said.
He added, "The people who work in the department matter big time, and the people who interface -- those first-line [state and local] responders -- we need to do everything that we can to make them function more efficiently with better coordination and so on."
In its report, the Main Street Partnership, a group of moderate Republicans in Congress, suggested the new department undertake:
* "Organizational development programs" aimed at instilling "a sense of shared mission and goals" in employees as they transfer from their agencies into the department.
* "Professional development programs" that identify skill gaps and help train employees to meet new and emerging threats.
* "Training and simulation programs" that help employees function effectively in high-stress and extraordinary situations.
The report said that "fostering respect for homeland security providers and their missions" will be "an indispensable prerequisite for the public patience, understanding and cooperation necessary to thwart future attacks and capture would-be terrorists."
The report was written by the group's Homeland Security Task Force, chaired by Reps. Shays, Doug Ose (R-Calif.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) and David Zolet, a vice president at TRW Inc.
The Bush administration plans to launch the department next month. The department will absorb 22 agencies, starting in March, and hopes to draft a proposal on how to alter personnel and pay rules by June.
Shays, who is seeking to chair the House Government Reform Committee next year, said the committee would monitor the reorganization in terms of structure and personnel. "We are going to be paying a lot of attention to this," he said.
"We have some very serious threats out there. We all need to be on board, and we don't need side arguments," Shays said. "We have a chance to make this really work for the benefit of our people, our employees and our government."
Bonuses Receive Scrutiny The White House decision to reinstitute the practice of giving cash awards to political appointees caused a stir last week, partly because of the timing. The decision on bonuses was disclosed shortly after President Bush said he wanted to hold down next year's pay raise for federal employees.
Yesterday, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) announced he had written Kay Coles James, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, and asked for the number of political appointees eligible to receive a bonus, their salaries, and how many appointees received a "within-grade" pay raise this year.
Democrats contend that the White House decision will prove demoralizing to the federal workforce. "We need to take a much closer look at the potential effects of the president's decision, and that is why I am requesting this information," Hoyer said.
Discuss the New Agency What are the challenges facing the Bush administration as it builds a Department of Homeland Security? What first steps should be taken by the administration to make the reorganization a success? Join me for an online discussion at noon today on www.washingtonpost.com.
Stephen Barr's e-mail address is email@example.com.