Labor issue stalls Homeland bill

President Bush's plan to remake the face of the federal government with the Homeland Security Department has stalled indefinitely due to a dispute over whether to exempt federal employees who work there from labor unions.

Although the legislation moved quickly through the House, the Senate has not been able to reach agreement in a dispute over the rights of 170,000 workers who would move into the new department, such as the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard.

With only a few days left until the Senate planned to recess until after the November elections, it appears unlikely that a compromise on the legislation will be reached. On Oct. 1, lawmakers said it is extremely unlikely that Congress will complete work on creating a new anti-terror department before the November elections.

"The bill's on a life-support system," said Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).

Although the biggest obstacle involved civil service and collective bargaining, the reorganization would be the biggest for the federal government since 1947 — when the War Department was renamed the Defense Department — and it would limit the power of some agencies in their traditional roles.

The bill would create a Homeland Security Department that would merge all or parts of 22 federal agencies with a combined budget of $37.5 billion. It also would create a clearinghouse of homeland security solutions in the technology industry and limit the liability of high-tech companies that provide security solutions to the government.

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