Federal reorganization
will help fight terrorism


Congress is nearing approval of reorganizing 22 federal agencies into a new Homeland Security Department.

BROWBEATEN at the polls, Democrats dropped their unified opposition to important measures in the lame-duck session of Congress. The most significant result will be creation of a Homeland Security Department, the largest federal reorganization in more than a half-century. Republicans about to take over control of the Senate won concessions that should put the bill on President Bush's desk this week. The new department is needed to improve protection against terrorism.

Democrats are not opposed to the revamp. In fact, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., proposed the idea months before the president agreed that it was needed. It will provide for the combining of 22 federal agencies comprising 170,000 employees. Bush campaigned for passage of the bill during his 15-state, five-day swing at the end of the midterm election campaign.

The conflict arose over the Bush administration's desire to strip the new department's employees of Civil Service protections regarding promotion and firing. It also allows the president to exempt workers who are represented by unions in their current agencies from collective-bargaining agreements in the new department because of national security. Government-employee unions regard the proposal as a war against organized labor.

A post-election agreement was negotiated to gain a few Democrats' support to assure Senate passage. It will give workers' unions a few weeks of federal mediation over new personnel rules that can be overruled by the White House. It also will require the president to renew the collective-bargaining exemption every four years.

Unions and most Democrats are far from satisfied with the compromise. Most House Democrats, including Rep. Neil Abercrombie, voted against the bill last week. We expect Senators Inouye and Akaka to similarly cast votes against the final version -- votes that can be largely attributed to their labor-union support.

Democratic opposition was made more understandable by frivolous ornaments, such as a provision benefiting pharmaceutical companies, that were added to the bill by Republicans brimming with confidence from their election successes. The final version gives companies immunity from being sued over faulty antiterrorism technology and makes it difficult to sue companies for making smallpox vaccinations for causing illness. Democrats were put in the position of having to go along with the changes or being blamed for obstructing the reorganization.

A more genuine product of bipartisan compromise was a bill creating a commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The bill won near-unanimous approval in Congress after Bush agreed to have less of a role in the commission's makeup and operations than that provided in an earlier GOP version. Bush could have followed through on threats to appoint such a panel by executive order.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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