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House panel votes to repeal DHS personnel overhaul

Move comes weeks after department announced its intentions to move ahead with portions of the new system.

The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday approved legislation with language to repeal controversial personnel reforms at the Homeland Security Department.

The bill (H.R. 1684) would authorize $40 billion for DHS for fiscal 2008 and includes an amendment that would unravel the department's proposed changes to employee appeal rights and performance management. The amendment, offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, was approved by a 17-13 vote.

The personnel system and its regulations "effectively gut employee due process rights and put in serious jeopardy the agency's ability to retain a workforce capable of accomplishing its critical missions," Lee said.

The legislative development comes just weeks after DHS announced its intentions to move ahead with certain portions of the personnel overhaul -- those dealing with adverse personnel actions and appeals of adverse actions, as well as those covering performance management. With the announcement of the new plans, DHS also gave the system a new name -- the Human Capital Operational Plan.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley had described the new plan as "sheer folly," and demanded that DHS bargain with the union prior to implementing any portion of the personnel system. But DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie countered that the continued pursuit of the system would move in accordance with union agreements.

The authorization measure also seeks to protect DHS employees' collective bargaining rights. DHS regulations to establish a new bargaining system were overturned last summer when an appeals court upheld a ruling that portions illegally curtailed collective bargaining rights by giving management the ability to cancel negotiated agreements after the fact.

"This legislation would put the final, and overdue, nail in the coffin of a personnel system that would bring serious harm to DHS employees," Kelley said, "and make even worse the serious morale problems that are widespread in DHS."

The committee also included language that would grant law enforcement officer status to Customs and Border Protection officers, a provision that NTEU and the American Federation of Government Employees applauded.

"AFGE believes that H.R. 1684 will greatly strengthen our nation's overall homeland security by recognizing the contribution of the men and women on the front lines and providing the resources necessary to ensure that they are the best trained, best equipped border protection force in the world today," said AFGE President John Gage.

DHS would not comment on the bill, as a matter of policy against commenting on pending legislation.