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
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.
Christopher Burger is program director
at the John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory
Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments
may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
7 Carl Hiaasen, "Atta's Visa: Typical Example of INS
Inefficiency," The Miami Herald, March 17, 2002 downloaded
on October 4, 2002.