White House threatens to veto DHS bill

The Bush administration and Congress are headed for another fight over major legislation, with the White House threatening a veto of a Homeland Security Department authorization bill that has broad implications for procurement, employment and technology use at the department.

The administration objects to a provision in the DHS Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that it says limits DHS’ flexibility in dealing with its employees. That provision would eliminate a waiver for bypassing bargaining unit negotiations when national security is at stake.

“DHS personnel management must strike a careful balance between the flexibility needed to defend against a ruthless enemy and the fairness needed to ensure employee rights,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

If the bill presented to President Bush contains the provisions, his senior advisers will recommend a veto, according to the statement.

Other items administration officials object to include:

  • A provision requiring reviews of a prospective contractor’s performance on other contracts for federal, state or local governments or for the private sector. The administration said it is a costly and expensive requirement that subverts Federal Acquisition Regulation policies that focus on information relevant to the work to be performed.
  • Language that would establish new domestic sourcing restrictions that White House officials said go against the country’s international obligations.
  • A provision that requires a separate acquisition training program for DHS’ procurement professionals, which the administration said undermines Office of Federal Procurement Policy efforts to standardize competency and training requirements governmentwide.
  • An attempt to create a pool of retired government employees who could be rehired to help with agency procurement. The administration says this should be more limited in scope with offsets to cover the cost.
  • Provisions aimed at improving information sharing through state and local fusion centers, which could limit DHS’ ability to meet the needs of state and local officials, White House officials said.

The bill also proposes establishing an undersecretary for policy and a separate Policy Directorate that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said is an attempt to force DHS to “finally develop a strategic vision.”

The administration said it supports that move.

Unlike Bush’s successful veto of the Iraq war funding bill, the administration’s opposition to the DHS authorization bill is on shakier ground.

The bipartisan bill was unanimously voted out of committee. It passed the full House May 9 by a vote of 296-126.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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