WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is facing a major blow in its efforts to enact the Homeland Security Act. The legislation is stalled in the Senate and many have doubts that it will see the light of day before this session ends Oct. 11.

A storm of controversy has swirled around the bill, which passed the GOP-controlled House. The legislation is a sweeping re-organization of the federal government. It combines 22 parts of agencies, including the Department of Justice and Treasury, and entire agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and the Border Patrol, into one cabinet level post.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the AFL-CIO have conducted a vigorous campaign faulting the bill’s union busting provisions and removal of civil service protections. In the name of “flexibility” the administration wanted a provision denying the Office of Homeland Security’s 170,000 workers the right to join the union.

AFGE President Bobby Harnage said union members were the first responders on September 11, organizing relief and security. “We are the best supporters of homeland security. It is what we do,” the union leader said. In an August poll conducted by Peter Hart Associates, 74 percent agreed that workers in the Office of Homeland Security should have union rights and civil service protections.

The bill would also deny the Senate the right to confirm the director, as it does for all cabinet appointments and high-ranking military officers, an important part of the federal government’s check and balances. It transfers that power into the executive branch, exclusively.

Responding to pressure, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduced a similar act which would preserve union rights but fails to address grave concerns regarding democratic rights and civil liberties.

On Sept. 30, numerous civil liberties and civil rights organizations, from the ACLU to National Council of La Raza, ran ads proposing five reforms to the bill to protect democratic rights. They include the creation of three top posts in the proposed Office of Homeland Security – a civil rights officer, a privacy officer and a deputy inspector for civil rights and civil liberties – to provide checks and balances to prevent abuse of authority. The civil rights groups want the Bush/Ashcroft Terrorist Information and Prevention System (TIPS) eliminated from the bill.

Their reform program for the bill also includes a halt to racial profiling; safeguards for immigrant children traveling alone to and in the U.S., by guaranteeing access to legal counsel; and a restoration of “due process” for immigrants.

Major newspapers from Minnesota to Pennsylvania to Georgia to Michigan are calling on Congress to go back to the drawing board, saying this homeland security act is fatally flawed.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized the Bush administration’s homeland security performance as “disorganized, behind schedule and unfocused.”