President Bush said he will not accept legislation creating a new Department of Homeland Security unless Congress gives him greater power to control the agency's budget and personnel. Democrats and union leaders say the president's demands would violate workers' rights.
President Bush opposes Democratic legislation that would prevent the new agency chief from suspending some civil-service and budgetary rules. Mr. Bush said the Homeland Security chief must not be "micromanaged" in a time of war against terrorism.
"I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens the president's well-established authorities, authorities to exempt parts of government from federal labor-management relations statutes when it serves our national interest," the president warned. " Every president since Jimmy Carter has used this statutory authority. And a time of war is the wrong time to weaken the president's ability to protect the American people."
Union leaders say the president's request is an effort to undermine the rights of the more 170,000 federal employees who will work at the new agency.
President Bush says that is not true.
"Now look, I fully understand the concerns of some of the unions here in Washington. Somehow they believe this is an attempt by the administration to undermine the basic rights of workers. I reject that as strongly as I can state it. I have great respect for the federal employees," he said.
As a federal employee himself, Mr. Bush said he knows government workers are committed to protecting the country against another terrorist attack. He wants what he calls "managerial flexibility" in the new agency to "get the job done right."
"The notion of flexibility will in no way undermine the basic rights of federal workers," Mr. Bush said. " Workers will retain whistle-blower protection, collective bargaining rights and protection against unlawful discrimination. But the new Secretary must have the freedom to get the right people in the right job at the right time and to hold them accountable."
One of the changes administration officials want is greater freedom to move workers to meet changing security demands. At the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, employees can refuse a reassignment of more than 30 days.
Both the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-controlled House are considering separate versions of the Homeland Security bill. Mr. Bush has given general support to the House bill but opposes the Senate measure which has passed out of committee but has not yet been taken up by the full Senate.
The president first proposed the new agency two months ago and wants to sign it into law by the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.