Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Tuesday handed ranking member Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., what he described as a "rough cut draft" of the homeland security legislation that he plans to mark up next Wednesday.
Senate floor action on the measure is expected the following week - and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., reiterated Tuesday that he plans to call up the package before the Senate adjourns for its August recess on or about Aug. 2.
Lieberman and Thompson emphasized that they agreed on broad areas of the proposal, although the two acknowledged differences on critical issues-such as the employment status of workers in the new Homeland Security Department.
Stressing that President Bush needs the management flexibility he has sought for the new department, Thompson said, "I think this will be unfortunately a big issue" as the proposal moves forward.
But at the same time, Thompson said the president was not seeking to strip away either civil service or whistleblower protections for employees. He called these "straw men" issues that were being raised for political reasons.
Thompson said the president and secretary needed extraordinary flexibility in areas such as compensation, "moving people" among jobs, individual accountability and acquisition.
Across the aisle, Lieberman and Daschle both stressed that Homeland Security Department employees would retain their workplace rights under the Senate bill. The legislation "preserves employees' rights to collective bargaining," said a Lieberman spokeswoman.
Lieberman disputed suggestions that the legislation would defer to the president on many of the nuts-and-bolts issues of creating a new department.
He said the Senate bill would differ from the White House proposal in a few ways, by adding an intelligence division to the new department, for example, and by "beefing up" its scientific capacities.
He said the legislation would provide an unprecedented "connection between intelligence and law enforcement."
Lieberman said discussions continue on the fate of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He noted that the Governmental Affairs Committee had passed a bill that would have divided the INS into two separate agencies, but said, "I'm becoming increasingly convinced it would make more sense to keep it together."
Thompson said three issues remain to be resolved: management, including the question of employee rights; whether a separate homeland security office would be a "statutory White House entity"; and whether the director of such an office would require Senate confirmation.
Thompson also said it was important to abandon specific deadlines for completing the legislation. "We have to get rid of the notion of doing something by Sept. 11," he declared.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., agreed that the Sept. 11 deadline would be difficult to reach.
On one controversial issue, Lott weighed in for placing the Coast Guard within the new department.
"Coast Guard is just not about search and rescue. Coast Guard is about protecting the shore.... I know my colleague in the House, 'Wolf Man' Young, doesn't agree with that," Lott said, referring tongue-in-cheek to House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska-a vociferous foe of moving the Coast Guard into the new department.