Entry for July 25, 2006

Douglas A. Brook, shown above, directs the Center for Defense Management Reform for the Graduate School of Business & Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School.  He is one of the authors of a report published June 22, 2006, Legislating Civil Service Reform: The Homeland Security Act of 2002, which looks at the secret drafting by the administration of the law, which included controversial changes to the civil service system, which are still being addressed in litigation.  According to the report, the law resulted from

a rare alignment of policy environment, policy opportunity, politics, and rhetorical argument. The result was enactment of legislation that it is reasonable to argue would not otherwise have been possible…Urgent legislation provided a policy opportunity: the HSA was the perfect legislative vehicle for an approach to personnel management that was already on the minds of administration policy makers. With the President’s Management Agenda already developed, the HSA represented a fortuitous meeting of preparation and opportunity for the White House…[–]”management flexibility” was conceptually so easy that it did not even require much discussion.

The report concludes that the administration prevailed because of the

framing of the debate and the rhetorical arguments that each side employed. Simply stated, the supporters of reform presented their arguments in terms of national security, and their opponents argued in terms of collective bargaining rights. In some sense this framing was, perhaps unwittingly, facilitated by the administration’s decision to draft its proposal using only very general language. A debate framed as “national security vs. union special interests” is quite different from one that might have been framed as “management flexibility vs.  “workers rights.” … In the post-911 policy environment, “national security” was a political trump card, even damaging the campaign of an undisputable patriot like Max Cleland.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who at that time was Chairman of  Government Affairs Committee and a Democrat presidential candidate, introduced S. 2452  to establish a Department of National Homeland Security and the National Office for Combating Terrorism.  In response, Bush decided to act in secret and without consultation.  He

instructed his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to come up with proposals for a homeland security department. Card organized a White House staff group to develop a homeland security agency proposal in secret, without explicit consultation with or advance notice to congressional leaders, cabinet secretaries, or agency heads.

The staff group that met secretly in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) was a working group of five White House staff, which would become known as the
“G-5.” They were Richard Falkenrath; Mark Everson, then comptroller of the Office of Federal Financial Management and later Deputy Director for Management of OMB; Joel Kaplan; Bruce Lawlor; and Brad Berenson, Associate Counsel to the President. The G-5 group answered to an oversight group of administration principals: Chief of Staff Card; Josh Bolten, then Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy; Mitch Daniels, Director of OMB; White House counsel Alberto Gonzales; and Nick Calio, head of White House Legislative Liaison. This group was tasked with developing the concept for reorganizing the federal government to deal with homeland security.

Members of the group worked in secret. Joel Kaplan explains,

It was secret in the beginning because we wanted freedom of deliberation and real thought. It was a terrific process. Later, it was secret because there was a sense that we were sort of brought along kicking and screaming, and this was sort of going to happen anyway. But the truth is this was exceptionally hard to get done. Especially because of the Congressional jurisdictional problems and the fact that this has to be done as one fell swoop or else it’ll never get done. It’ll get nickel-and-dimed to death.

While the authors lack sufficient evidence to draw conclusions about politicl considerations, they analyze the effects.

On the one hand, there are administration officials who claim they were just doing what they believed was right and that politics was not a consideration. On the other hand, there is a putative Democratic presidential candidate pushing an alternative bill in the Senate and politically powerful public employee unions with a history of supporting Democrats…. Regardless of intentions, the effects of politics on this issue are quite clear. Key Democrats who stayed with their union constituencies were defeated at the polls. The 2002 congressional elections had a decisive effect on the legislation—and vice versa. 

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