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Improving America's Security Act of 2007--Continued

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Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - March 01, 2007)

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AMENDMENT NO. 314

Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, I thank the managers for their hard work. They sincerely want to strengthen homeland security and want to keep this bill focused on that goal and not allow it to be tangled up in partisan issues. That is my goal, too. That is why I am offering this amendment today.

The provision in this bill, found on page 215, that reverses a critical homeland security policy and introduces collective bargaining for airport screeners who work at the Transportation Security Administration, or what we call the TSA, has nothing to do with improving our homeland security. It was certainly not recommended by the 9/11 Commission. My amendment would strike this provision so TSA can continue to protect us from another terrorist attack.

It may be helpful to review the history of this debate so my colleagues understand how we got here. Just 5 years ago, Congress voted in favor of a flexible personnel management system at TSA in recognition that special flexibility is necessary to protect American passengers from terrorists. This system allows security screeners to join a union, but it doesn't tie the hands of TSA when it comes to managing its workforce and protecting the American people.

Collective bargaining, however, would allow labor unions to stand between TSA and its employees in ways that would make the agency less flexible and less nimble and create an operational and security disaster. Mr. President, collective bargaining has been a topic of discussion since TSA's inception. It is important that my colleagues know that it has been evaluated and rejected in every instance as something that would be harmful to our safety.

First, in 2001, collective bargaining was not included in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act when TSA was first created.

Second, in 2003, collective bargaining was rejected by the TSA Administrator for security reasons.

Third, in 2004, collective bargaining was not recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

I need to repeat that because it is important. This whole bill is designed to fulfill the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, and they did not mention anything about collective bargaining.

Finally, the decision against collective bargaining at TSA has been upheld by multiple Federal and labor relations courts between 2002 and 2006.

Now I will outline six of the negative security consequences of this dramatic change in policy. First, TSA currently uses a security strategy as recommended by the 9/11 Commission that is based on flexible, random, and unpredictable methods. This approach keeps would-be attackers off guard.

Under collective bargaining, TSA will have to negotiate a predetermined framework within which the agency will be required to operate. This policy was not recommended in the 9/11 Commission Report, and it goes directly against the Commission's recommendations. This will weaken our security.

Second, TSA currently establishes security protocols on a national and international basis without having to bargain in advance over the impact of these protocols.

Under collective bargaining, TSA will be required to negotiate on every security protocol with multiple unions on an airport-by-airport basis. At its worst, this could stop many critical new security protocols, but even at its best it will slow them down. This will weaken our security.

Third, TSA currently shifts resources in real time without having to inform any entity. Under collective bargaining, redeployment decisions will be subject to binding arbitration review by a third party who has no Government or security experience but has authority to reverse TSA security decisions.

As my colleagues know, arbitration can take months or even years to resolve. This will weaken our security.

Fourth, TSA currently moves, upgrades, replaces, and repositions equipment to stay in tune with operational requirements. Under collective bargaining, equipment deployment will be subject to a 60- to 180-day negotiation process. All information, including standard operating procedures and tactics, will also be subject to union negotiation. This will weaken our security.

Fifth, TSA currently protects sensitive security information, such as the security resources at a particular site, and releases this information only to those who need to know.

Under collective bargaining, TSA will be required to disclose security information to third party negotiators and arbitrators, increasing the risk of unauthorized information release. This will weaken our security.

Sixth, and finally, TSA currently deploys many innovative security programs within weeks. Under collective bargaining, new positions and promotions will all be subject to months, or years, of impact in implementation.

TSA provided just-in-time explosive training to more than 38,000 security screeners in less than 3 weeks in November of 2005. Under collective bargaining, training is subject to negotiation on the need, design, order of training delivered, and method of delivery. This process could add 60 to 180 days to security training programs and weaken our security.

I know my colleagues understand the need for TSA to be able to move quickly, so I want to make sure everyone knows how slow and how cumbersome collective bargaining will be. Let's please keep in mind as we look at this situation the whole purpose of TSA is to protect our country. That is their first priority. We cannot allow the unionization and union requirements to preempt this first priority of TSA.

Today, TSA--and I know this is very difficult to read--can implement its changes in 1 day or less, and we will talk about some of those examples. But under collective bargaining, it can take up to 568 days to work out the negotiations and possible litigation that could occur when they are trying to establish new protocols. This is not acceptable when it comes to protecting our country.

If we introduce collective bargaining at TSA as proposed in this bill, changes could take, as I said, up to 568 days. My colleagues can see a collective bargaining process starts with up to 14 days of advance notice, up to 14 days for the union to decide how they are going to negotiate, plus up to 180 days to negotiate, and followed by 7 days to implement.

This whole process does not fit with national security interests. I hope my colleagues agree that this is too long and too cumbersome to subject our Nation's security to.

I wish to share with my colleagues several real-world examples of how TSA has been able to rapidly respond to security threats. I will point the attention of my colleagues to the United Kingdom bomb plot, of which we are all aware, last August in 2006. On August 10 of last year, information about one of the most spectacular terrorist plots since 9/11 was shared with TSA. TSA worked very quickly to develop a plan that would, over the course of 12 hours, ban all liquids beyond the security checkpoint and enact the quickest changes to the prohibited items list in history. It was simply the most drastic change airport security had ever undergone, and it happened in less than 6 hours from the time the arrest of the alleged terrorists was revealed.

I understand one of my colleagues has offered an amendment that would undercut the whole idea of this bill and force TSA to prove it is an emergency or an imminent threat in order to take the action we did when this plot was revealed.

What will TSA have to go through to prove there is an emergency? What kind of court case, what kind of litigation, what kind of hearings in Congress will they have to go through to prove it is an emergency? This attempt to gut this bill makes it worse than the underlying bill because it subjects our security to constant litigation and second-guessing.

The success of this operation--this United Kingdom bomb plot--was based on a number of factors, including a nimble and professional workforce who is highly trained and rewarded for their performance: an ability to change procedures within hours, expertise in dealing with the public to educate, inform, and help them handle the changes, and a commitment to security in the face of emerging threats. This is a clear example of why we should not tie TSA's hands and prevent it from accomplishing its security mission.

Another example of how TSA has been able to react quickly happened last July, when Lebanon erupted into violence and fighting broke out, leaving thousands of Americans trapped in between the warring factions. The Government of the United States safely evacuated these Americans and thousands of other refugees.

From July 22 to July 31, TSA officers helped to secure 58 chartered flights from Cypress to the United States and screened over 11,000 passengers. The overseas and domestic deployment was the first of its kind, and it demonstrated TSA's ability to use its flexible structure to appropriately respond to both domestic and overseas needs.

TSA delivered on its security mission and ensured the security of arriving airplanes and passengers. The mission was designed, executed, and people were being screened overseas within 96 hours, which is remarkable for a Government agency that had never deployed overseas and had not envisioned a need to do so.

It is important for us to remember at this point the amendment that has been offered to change my amendment would likely have resulted by now with TSA being in court, being challenged as to whether the situation in Lebanon was an imminent threat to our country, which is the language of the amendment that has been offered to change this bill.

We cannot water down our Nation's security by allowing TSA to have to follow collective bargaining rules or, which has been proposed, prove it is an emergency or an imminent threat. This would create a heyday for lawyers.

If these operations had been subject to arbitration and review required by collective bargaining, changes in deployments of personnel would have required notification on TSA's management to the collective bargaining unit, followed by a response accepting the changes in employment conditions or proposing modifications. This process would have created time-consuming rounds of negotiation, even using an expedited process.

TSA's response to the United Kingdom terrorist plot was developed in 12 hours, and the screeners were deployed to Lebanon and Cypress within 96 hours, response times that would have been significantly delayed by days and weeks, if not made impossible, had the notification and negotiation requirements in this bill been in effect. We cannot allow that to happen to our Nation's security.

I would now like to outline three ways collective bargaining will negatively affect workforce performance.

First, TSA currently uses a paid-for performance system that is based on technical competence, readiness for duty, and operational performance. Top security screeners receive a 5-percent base pay increase on top of a 2.1-percent cost-of-living adjustment and a $3,000 bonus.

Under collective bargaining, this paid-for performance system will be replaced with a pass-fail system based heavily on seniority that will not adequately assess technical skills. The collective bargaining system will not reward screening performance or good customer service, and it will reduce standards. This will weaken workforce performance.

Second, TSA can also currently remove ineffective security screeners within 72 hours. Imagine that: The frontline security of our country can identify someone who is not doing their job and remove them so our country and the airline passengers can be safe.

Under collective bargaining, however, arbitration proceedings will retain substandard employees for months, preventing the hiring of replacement officers. This process could take 90 to 240 days and will reduce overall workforce performance. This will weaken workforce performance.

Third, TSA currently uses multiple screening disciplines, adding interlocking layers of security. Under collective bargaining, employees will be able to refuse multidisciplinary jobs resulting in fewer resources to serve passenger checkpoints. This will weaken workforce performance.

My colleagues should know exactly how this weakened workforce performance affects air travelers in our country, and we can have a good look at how that is going to affect us by looking at Canada. A recent incident in Canada provides a great example.

Canada's air security system does not have the flexibility that TSA enjoys. Last Thanksgiving, as part of a labor dispute, passenger luggage was not properly screened and sometimes not screened at all as airport screeners engaged in a work-to-rule campaign, as they called it, creating long lines at the Toronto airport.

A government report found that to clear the lines, about 250,000 passengers were rushed through with minimal or no screening whatsoever. One Canadian security expert was quoted as saying that if terrorists had known that in those 3 days their baggage wasn't going to be searched, that would have been bad. That is an understatement of the year. We cannot afford to have this kind of union-sponsored disruption at our airports. The Canadian union's airport security was not allowed to strike either, but we can see what they did in order to disrupt the proper screening of baggage there. This would happen in our country as well.

I think it is also important that people know how collective bargaining will impact passenger service. I know that for most Americans, security is the No. 1 goal when it comes to air travel, but they also want security operations to be efficient and not needlessly disrupt their schedules.

I know my colleagues would be pleased to know that TSA has managed the growth of passenger travel and kept average peak wait times to less than 12 minutes. Under collective bargaining, TSA will have to pull at least 3,500 screeners, or 8 percent of the total workforce, off a line to fulfill the needs of the new labor-management infrastructure. This would close at least 250 screening lanes, causing longer lines at checkpoints.

Under these circumstances, average wait times would increase from 12 minutes at peak to more than 30 minutes. This is something that will be very unpopular, especially given the fact that these longer wait lines come with less security.

TSA is also currently capable of relocating security screeners to enable on-time aircraft departures. Under collective bargaining, negotiating job stations and functions will result in poor staffing, leading to longer lines, late flight departures, and other adverse industry impacts. Americans want to make their flights, and they will not support needless delays that come at the expense of their security.

I think it is also important that my colleagues understand what I am talking about and how it could play out in real terms.

During Hurricane Katrina, TSA deployed security officers from around the country to New Orleans to screen evacuees during the aftermath of the storm. This response allowed them to evacuate 22,000 men, women, and children through the airport safely and securely. Several weeks later, TSA responded the same in response to Hurricane Rita in Houston. Security screeners left their home airports with little notice to fly to Houston to help those in need.

Another example of how TSA has been able to react quickly to weather-related events occurred this past December when a big snowstorm hit Denver. Because local TSA employees were unable to get to the airport, TSA responded quickly by deploying 55 officers from Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Colorado Springs to Denver. The deployment allowed TSA to open every security lane around the clock at the airport until they were back to normal operations.

Should we force TSA to prove this was an imminent danger or an emergency before they respond to the needs of the American people? That is what the second-degree amendment is intended to do. We cannot allow that. That will weaken our security.

These operations have been subject to arbitration review required by collective bargaining. Changes in deployment of personnel would have required notification by TSA management to the collective bargaining unit, followed by a response accepting the changes in employment conditions or proposing modifications. This process would have created time-consuming rounds of negotiations, even using an expedited process. Americans do not want needless bureaucracy in our airports, especially when it comes at the expense of our safety.

I also want my colleagues to understand the amount of money collective bargaining is going to cost and how it will impact TSA's operation in air travel security.

The first year startup costs of creating a collective bargaining infrastructure is conservatively estimated at $160 million, forcing TSA to relocate thousands of screeners currently working on aviation security. Since there is no money allocated for this change, this mandate would force TSA to pull 3,500 transportation security officers, or 8 percent of the total workforce, off the checkpoints.

These officers equate to 250 of the 2,054 active screening lanes across the Nation at any given time, closing 250 lanes. This impact is equivalent to closing all the checkpoint screening lanes in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York. This impact is the equivalent of closing all screening operations across the system 1 day every week. This impact would result in failing to screen 300,000 passengers every day.

Some may say we should increase spending for TSA by $160 million. But if we have this money, why use it to pay for redtape? Let's use it for security.

I also want to address some of the objections to TSA's flexible management. First, those who want collective bargaining at TSA say they want screeners to be treated as every other Federal employee. That would be fine, except for the fact they are not like every other Federal employee. They have a mission to protect the American people, and collective bargaining will prevent them from accomplishing this mission.

Second, those who want collective bargaining at TSA say it will lead to lower attrition and, therefore, more safety. Collective bargaining may lead to lower rates of attrition, but it will not lead to more security.

I am sure there are security screeners who would like to be guaranteed lifetime employment, but that would prohibit TSA from keeping America safe. TSA currently has the ability to reward screeners based on their performance and to remove those screeners who are not performing. That is what ensures safety, not a workforce that is rewarded for seniority and is not accountable.

We have also heard the supporters of collective bargaining at TSA say it is working at Customs and border control. First, I take issue with the claim it is working with Customs or working at our borders. Our Customs agency has experienced numerous delays and complications in securing our borders that have been caused by collective bargaining. I think our Customs agency and border security should have the same flexibility TSA enjoys, and it is a debate we should have as we look at ways to better secure our borders.

Let's make sure we understand what we are saying. Advocates of collective bargaining for airport security are saying our border security has worked well. It is hard to look at 10 to 12 million illegal aliens in our country and say our border security is working well. It is not working well.

We are also hearing increasingly from all over the world that our customs process is among the worst in the world. Our tourism is down and our business visits are down because we are making it harder and harder for people from around the world to get into our country. Our customs system doesn't work and neither does our border security.

The supporters of collective bargaining at TSA also believe our screeners are lacking important protections to address their grievances. I hope my colleagues know TSA has given screeners the ability to have their whistleblower complaints reviewed by the Office of the Independent Counsel, even though it is not required in law. Critics also claim screeners do not have the ability to appeal adverse actions against them, such as suspensions and terminations, through the Merit System Protection Board. This is true, but TSA has created its own disciplinary review board that provides workers with relief faster than the Merit System Protection Board.

I want my colleagues to understand what all of this means for unions, because I am afraid that is what this policy is all about. Unionizing the 48,000 workers at TSA will give labor unions a $17 million annual windfall in dues from these new union workers. Let me share a quote. For my colleagues who doubt this policy is being driven by unions, I want them to hear what was said earlier this week by two leaders of the American Federation of Government Employees, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. They said:

We must gain 40,000 new members a year to break even today. But because of the age of our members and pending retirements, that number will grow to 50,000 in 2 years and probably 60,000 a few years after that.

An additional comment:

This campaign is the perfect opportunity to convince TSA employees to join our union and become activist volunteers in our one great union.

The purpose of TSA is not to create activist volunteers for unions. It is to protect our country. Again, I need to remind my colleagues the top priority of Homeland Security and TSA is to protect Americans.

I conclude by saying this is a very serious issue, and I encourage all my colleagues to think about it carefully. We all want workers to have better benefits, but that is not what this debate is about. TSA offers great benefits and important protections to its workforce. This debate is about how to keep our country safe, and we cannot tie TSA up in knots of redtape.

I understand the unions want this new policy because it

will add thousands of new dues-paying members to their rolls, but they are going to have to live without it in order to keep our country safe. This bill is about doing things that will prevent another 9/11 attack. Adding an earmark for labor unions that prevents TSA from doing its job is the last thing we should do.

I realize the Senator from Connecticut feels strongly about this issue, and I know I probably haven't changed his mind. Unionizing the Federal workforce is something that is very important to him, and it is something he has worked on for many years, most notably when Congress created the new Department of Homeland Security in 2002. I also realize the majority leader has impressed upon the Senators on the other side of the aisle to stick together in supporting this destructive policy. This is very disappointing, because it shows the majority may be more interested in having a political showdown than they are in strengthening our security.

The President has issued a veto threat on this bill if it creates collective bargaining at TSA, and there are enough Senators to sustain it. That leaves us with two options: We can remove this misguided position and preserve the bill or we can let the bill die. I simply ask my colleagues: Is this union earmark worth killing this bill for? I don't think so.

I think it is important to also note the second-degree amendment that is being offered to change my amendment is not supported by Homeland Security. In fact, they believe it will make this bill worse than it is right now.

My colleagues, I ask everyone to set aside the partisan politics, set aside special interests, and let us continue to improve TSA, our Transportation Security Agency. They have demonstrated that while there have been a lot of problems with starting up a new agency, each year they have gotten better. Each year their workforce has gotten better trained. Each year we are moving passengers through with less and less inconvenience and better and better security. This is not the time to turn back. This is not the time to play politics and payback with our security.

I encourage everyone to take a careful look at this amendment and I ask my colleagues to support it.

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Mr. DeMINT. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mrs. McCASKILL. Sure.

Mr. DeMINT. I want to make sure I understand the provisions in the Senator's amendment. I know one of them is TSA, in order to act quickly and make changes rapidly, would need to establish that there is an emergency.

My question is, Would the ongoing global war on terror be considered an emergency?

Mrs. MCCASKILL. I do not believe declaring that we have a problem with terrorism worldwide, that is a status quo day in and day out, would be considered a day-to-day emergency. The examples you used, however, of Hurricane Katrina or the necessity to respond in Lebanon--I think those issues certainly would be issues that the professionals at TSA, the officers, would want to respond to quickly.

Mr. DeMINT. I know another criterion is that if they could establish that we have a newly imminent threat they could act quickly to respond and not go through the collective bargaining process. Would al-Qaida be considered a newly imminent threat?

Mrs. MCCASKILL. I understand the point my colleague is trying to make. I would say there are a whole lot of things that some are trying to put under the rubric of a continuing threat against America. There have been proposals to take away some basic constitutional rights. There have been proposals to change the way we view some of the rights and privileges that Americans have.

I think to say that these workers don't get the same benefits as the Border Patrol or Customs agents just because they are screening in airports, under this rubric that we have to be concerned about worldwide terror, is specious reasoning.

Mr. DeMINT. If I could make one last appeal? This document is the collective bargaining procedures the border agents have for just one unit. This bill opens the possibility of literally hundreds of unions in every airport. I appeal to my colleagues. If every airport has to deal with separate collective bargaining arrangements and has to establish an emergency or imminent threat on every occasion, and we can second-guess them in Congress--and lawyers will--I think we need to work together to make sure we come to the best conclusion. I know the amendment of the Senator is well intended. Hopefully we can discuss it more on the floor tomorrow or next week.

Mrs. MCCASKILL. I thank the Senator.

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