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Bush demands pay, hiring flexibility in homeland security bill

In a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota Thursday, President Bush renewed his push for a new Homeland Security Department unencumbered by detailed civil service rules and regulations, especially in the areas of pay and hiring.

The president attacked the homeland security bill being debated by the Senate, saying the bill leaves the administration with its "hands tied."

"The way the bill is structured now, it takes too long to hire good people," Bush said. "There's too many bureaucratic rules. The bill micromanages the capacity of the executive branch to do the business on behalf of the American people. I need the capacity, this department needs the-it's not just me, it's future presidents need the capacity to be able to pay people according to their contributions and hold people to account for their performance, both good and bad. If somebody does a good job, we want to be able to provide bonuses."

The president also pushed for the flexibility to reorganize homeland security agencies.

"I need the authority to have Customs and the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] and the Border Patrol work in concert so that there's no gaps in the defense of our borders. I don't have that authority under the Senate bill," Bush said.

In an appearance at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Wednesday, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the leading proponent of the Senate's homeland bill, expressed dismay about Bush's attacks on the legislation, saying the two sides were in agreement on 90 percent of the issues at stake.

"I don't understand the tactic that President Bush is following," said Lieberman.

When the Senate returns to session in early September, it will debate a motion to proceed to the homeland security bill. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will control the debate time for opponents of the motion. Byrd has warned against rushing ahead without carefully considering the ramifications of creating a new department, and helped persuade Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., not to try to tackle the bill before the Senate's August recess.