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Improving America's Security Act of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


IMPROVING AMERICA'S SECURITY ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - March 13, 2007)

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, I rise today in support of Senate amendment No. 389 offered by my colleague from Missouri, Senator BOND. It is appropriate that this amendment be offered to the 9/11 bill as it is a first step in implementing one of the few outstanding recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission--to reform congressional oversight of the intelligence community. I am proud to be a cosponsor of this important amendment and thank Senator BOND for his leadership on this issue.

The 9/11 Commission suggested that the rules of the House of Representatives and the Senate lack the power, influence and sustained capability to effectuate oversight of the intelligence community. As such, they recommended that Congress establish one committee in each House of Congress with both authorizing and appropriation authority for the intelligence community or create a joint committee based on the model of the old Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

Just this year, the House of Representatives amended their rules to create a new panel on the Appropriations Committee with members of both the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Committee. While the House provision does not meet the 9/11 Commission recommendation in full, the Senate has not acted at all. As every Member of this body knows, reforming Congress, especially the Senate, can be difficult and will face much resistance. However, the Senate should not be an exception to government reform after September 11, 2001. We should lead by example. We owe the American public and the families of those lost on September 11, 2001 to continue to improve intelligence collection and coordination as well as to improve congressional oversight.

I know many have ideas on reform in the Senate, and we should explore those. We need to find the most effective way to conduct vital, and often difficult, intelligence oversight. That is why this amendment is so important--it asks the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to each review the 9/11 Commission's recommendation. Members of the Senate with expertise in reform and intelligence will review the oversight process and develop recommendations on the most valuable reforms.

In conclusion, I hope all my colleagues will support this amendment and work with the committees in the Senate to improve the congressional oversight process.

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President I rise today in opposition to this final bill because I believe one of the provisions included will greatly undermine our homeland security efforts. Specifically, the provision would mandate that the Transportation Security Administration have the ability to collectively bargain with Government unions representing airport security screeners. This will create unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy and tie the hands of our security personnel. While this provision may be beneficial to the union bosses, it is not beneficial to Georgians and the American people.

TSA must have the flexibility to respond when our security is threatened. In this current era of unpredictable threats, TSA must be able to continually change its systems to meet the changing security environment. If we mandate that TSA must negotiate with the unions for every change in circumstance, it will negate the agency's ability to respond quickly to terrorist threats and other emergencies. I just don't think that is common sense.

In fact, when TSA was created, the agency was given the authority to decide whether to engage in collective bargaining with airport baggage screeners, and TSA concluded that such negotiations would weaken its ability to protect the American people. This authority was not recommended in the 9/11 Commission Report.

Now let's be clear--the issue here is not whether TSA employees should be allowed to join a union but whether TSA must collectively bargain with Government unions before it changes personnel and policies. At the present time, airport screeners may voluntarily join a union and TSA will withhold union dues at an employee's request. The union, however, has no standing to negotiate with TSA on behalf of their members.

I would just note that this restriction is not unique to TSA. Other Federal agencies that collect and respond to intelligence in an effort to address homeland security, such as the FBI, CIA, and Secret Service, all have the same restriction. This is done as an acknowledgement that highly sensitive security information should only be released on a need-to-know basis. Collective bargaining, conversely, would require the release of sensitive information to external negotiators and arbitrators, which would increase the risk of sensitive information getting in the wrong hands.

TSA must be able to quickly shift employees based on intelligence and airport traffic demands while modifying procedures at a moment's notice. For example, this past August, following an attempted United Kingdom airline bombing, TSA overhauled its procedures in less than 12 hours to prevent terrorists from smuggling liquid explosives onto any U.S. flights. Not only did this flexibility ensure that no U.S. flights were cancelled due to the change, most importantly, it ensured the safety and security of the United States. This past December, during a major snowstorm in Denver, local TSA employees were unable to get to the airport. However, due to the current policies, TSA was able to deploy officers from Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Colorado Springs to the Denver airport. This deployment allowed TSA to open every security lane in Denver around the clock at the airport until they were back to normal operations. So in circumstances like these, TSA cannot spend days, weeks, or months negotiating over officer assignments and new schedules before implementing them.

We should remember that TSA exists to protect American lives, and its focus must remain on homeland security and not on labor negotiations. I am extremely concerned that the provision included in this bill will lead to a change in culture within the agency, and I just don't think our hard-working TSA employees gain much from this.

I am proud of our dedicated TSA employees in Georgia, and we already have a ``pay for performance'' system in place that weeds out nonperformers. The system is based upon technical competence, readiness for duty, and operational performance. But under the proposed changes, the most effective security employees will be punished by the change in pay practices.

Finally, we should be concerned about what this means to passengers and the American taxpayers. The collective bargaining system would not reward good screening performance or customer service. Additionally, implementing the infrastructure for collective bargaining would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and TSA would be forced to relocate thousands of personnel. For Georgians, fewer personnel means fewer screening lanes and longer lines at airports like Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

Our national security is too important to risk. It is no accident that we have not had a terrorist attack on domestic soil since September 11, 2001. But that is not to say that it can't happen again. The terrorists only have to get it right once. But we have to get it right every time. So let's not hinder our ability to do that. Our homeland security infrastructure must be able to operate in real time. We should not tie the very hands we rely upon to protect us here at home. It is disappointing that this provision is included in this bill, and I urge my colleagues to oppose final passage.


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