Personnel reform, but no layoffs, envisioned for new department

No federal employees would be laid off if a 170,000-person Department of Homeland Security is created by consolidating dozens of existing federal offices, the Bush administration said in documents obtained by Government Executive Thursday.

But the new department's leaders should be given much more authority over personnel than most current federal managers have, the administration said.

"The president's top priority is building the best possible organization for homeland security," the administration said in the documents. "We anticipate the initial workforce to remain roughly as it is."

The administration went on to call for "significant flexibility" for department officials in "hiring processes, compensation systems and practices, and performance management to recruit, retain, and develop a motivated, high-performance and accountable workforce."

"When a job needs to be done the department should be able to fill it promptly, at a fair compensation level, and with the right person," the administration said. "Likewise, employees should receive recognition for their achievements, but in cases where performance falls short, should be held accountable."

Federal union leaders have generally opposed giving such broad authority to federal managers, arguing that existing rules in the federal personnel system are aimed at protecting employees from undue political influence and ensuring that the most qualified people are chosen for federal jobs.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she is concerned that the administration might try to limit union power in the new department. "There's been no indication that that would be done, but I don't dismiss the concern either," Kelley said.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, in comments to reporters Thursday morning, said the administration doesn't expect the government workforce to grow as a result of the reorganization either. "Keep in mind, if you take 100 workers from Department X and put those 100 workers in Department Y, you still have 100 workers. They've been reorganized," Fleischer said. "But it is not an addition to the government, because you're working with the same, essentially, group of people."

The Bush administration also called for granting the new Homeland Security Secretary special procurement powers "to encourage innovation and rapid development and operation of critical technologies vital to securing the homeland."

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