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New Homeland Security Agency Brings Huge HR Changes

December 18, 2002
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Related Topics: Mergers and Acquisitions, Featured Article, Training & Development
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It’s the mother of all HR assignments: Take a workforce of 170,000, nowworking in 22 established federal government agencies, and fit them under thesame roof. That’s exactly the task that Tom Ridge, designated HomelandSecurity secretary, faces as he oversees the largest governmental reorganizationin more than 50 years.

    Perhaps fittingly, workplace issues took center stage in the weeks leading upto final passage in November of the Homeland Security Act, which established thenew cabinet-level department. President Bush had hoped to have the legislationenacted in time for the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Thatdidn’t happen. A stalemate over workplace issues took center stage inwrangling between Republicans and Democrats, and the squabbling sometimesovershadowed the bill’s urgent mission: to establish an agency to coordinateprotection of the nation’s borders and prevent future terrorist attacks.

    Bush at one point threatened to veto the entire package unless it contained anew personnel framework with enough flexibility to promote and fire employees asneeded. Then he swept aside union opposition and got the bill he wanted whenRepublicans took control of both the House and Senate in the November elections.

    As Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) puts it, Bush needs "the ability to shiftresources, including personnel, at the blink of an eye." Miller complains thatunder the old system, it "takes five months to hire a new employee and morethan a year to fire a bad one."

    The new agency will be responsible for border security, emergency preparedness, biological warfare, intelligence analysis,and protection of the President himself. Expertise to carry out the missionalready exists, but counter-terrorism programs are fragmented throughout thegovernment. Bush administration officials now face the daunting task of pullingthe scattered pieces together and making it all work. It could take years to getthe department fully integrated, experts say.HR professionals should pay closeattention to some of the new personnel rules. Under the new setup, the Bushadministration will be able to waive Civil Service collective-bargaining rightsif direct negotiations with unions fail to yield agreement and the federalmediation service is unable to resolve the dispute. The Homeland Security Actalso creates a new senior-level position of chief human capital officer.

    "Many private sector companies have the same position--a senior-levelofficer in charge of training and upgrading the skills of the workforce," saysCynthia Pantazis, director of policy and public leadership for the AmericanSociety for Training and Development, which called for creation of the newoffice during congressional hearings. "What this does is ratchet up theimportance of human capital," Pantazis says.

    Some of the changes have been debated for decades. Constance Horner, a guestscholar at the Brookings Institution and former director of the U.S. Office ofPersonnel Management, says she and others in the Reagan administration tried butfailed to win congressional support for more flexibility in work rules. "Ittook an act of terrorism to induce change," she says.

Workforce, January 2003, p. 15 -- Subscribe Now!

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