President Bush wants Congress to approve a new department of Homeland Security to coordinate border patrols and emergency response teams. Mr. Bush says the agency must be exempt from civil service rules on hiring and firing.
President Bush says the new department will better protect America with 170,000 employees from the Coast Guard to scientists fighting bio-terrorism.
But Mr. Bush says the agency will not work properly unless it operates outside existing civil service regulations for federal workers. "The Department of Homeland Security must be able to move people and resources quickly, without being forced to comply with a thick book of bureaucratic rules," he said.
Democrats who control the Senate do not want the agency exempted from those workplace rules or allowed to limit the collective bargaining rights of union workers.
They also opposed the president's plan to allow the new Homeland Security Director to transfer funds within government accounts.
President Bush wants the new agency up and running by the end of the year. But in his weekly radio address, he threatened to veto any legislation that does not give the new agency more flexibility on personnel. "Senators need to understand I will not accept a homeland security bill that puts special interests in Washington ahead of the security of the American people," said President Bush. "I will not accept a homeland security bill that ties the hands of this administration or future administrations in defending our nation against terrorist attacks."
Senator Joseph Lieberman helped put together the Democratic plan. He says differences with the president over civil service regulations and union bargaining should not distract from the need to get the Department of Homeland Security working. "Those are side issues that ought to be put-off for another day and not be allowed to deter us from completing our urgent mission: protecting the American people from terrorism at home," he said.
Senator Lieberman says Democrats are concerned that the president's plan for Homeland Security does not do enough to increase information sharing between security agencies including the CIA and FBI. "The president's proposal instead protects the old bureaucratic barriers and reinforces the tendency to share too little information too late," said Jospeh Liberman.
The new department would be the largest government reorganization in more than 50 years.