Senator calls for federal job cuts to pay for homeland security

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., Wednesday reiterated his call for eliminating 10 percent of all federal jobs that are not related to national security-about 97,000 government jobs in all.

The job cuts would free up money to fund homeland security and help restore fiscal discipline, Edwards said in a speech to the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington think-tank.

Edwards, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, first urged reducing the federal workforce in a Nov. 12 speech to a conference sponsored by Fortune magazine. In that speech, he criticized the Bush administration for adding federal jobs and called for a 10 percent cut in the federal workforce except at the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

"We must get the size of our government back under control," he said on Nov. 12. "A lot of the increase is in bureaucratic corners that have nothing to do with terrorism."

Edwards also urged cutting the ranks of both federal and contract employees. "Through smart workforce planning, we can cut the number of government employees and contractors outside Defense and Homeland Security by at least 10 percent over the next 10 years."

By calling for straight job cuts and including contract employees in his plan, Edwards' initiative diverges from current Bush administration policies. The White House is pushing agencies to put 425,000 federal jobs up for competition from private contractors, but it is not targeting any federal jobs for outright elimination. The Bush administration has also focused its job competition program on federal employees, not federal contractors.

But Edwards also believes in beefing up the federal workforce involved in homeland security. On Wednesday, he said the government should hire 10,000 more border security officials for the Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Bureau of Consular Affairs, an agency in the State Department.

He also recommended $1.5 billion in new federal spending to allow state and local governments to hire or help retain 75,000 firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police officers.

Additionally, Edwards called for a federal scholarship plan that would help fund college tuition in exchange for a five-year commitment to work in a key field related to homeland security, such as public health.

In his Nov. 12 speech, Edwards also said agencies that have "outlived their usefulness" should be eliminated. He cited the Office of Thrift Supervision, a Treasury Department agency with four branch offices across the country, as an example of an agency that is "outdated, unnecessary, and begging for consolidation."

The American Federation of Government Employees did not respond to questions about Edwards' proposals.

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