Act in haste, repent in leisure

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

The Bush administration has perfected the knack of stampeding Congress into hasty enactment of its priorities, which has given us such questionable, poorly thought out pieces of legislation as the USA Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security.

And now the administration is at it again. On April 10, the day before Congress left for its Easter recess, the Pentagon delivered a 205-page bill, the grandly named Defense

Transformation for the 21st Century Act, calling for sweeping changes in the way the Defense Department is run.

And, of course, the bill had to be passed immediately in the interests of national security and defense. And, obligingly, the House Armed Services Committee will include some, maybe most, of the proposed act in a must-pass authorization bill being marked up this week and next.

The bill would free the Pentagon from the traditional civil-service strictures governing its 746,000 civilian employees and give it, if not exactly a free hand, great flexibility in pay, promotions, hiring, firing, transfers and job descriptions. The bill would exempt the Pentagon from some environmental laws and cut red tape to speed up acquisitions. And who knows what else. It's a big bill.

The point about civil-service protection and regulations governing acquisitions is that they were put there for a reason, maybe good, maybe bad, maybe now outmoded. And although the committee postponed consideration of the measure for a week to give members time to study it, the bill has received something less than close scrutiny.

Supporters of the bill say it has incorporated many of the recommendations made by the National Commission on the Public Service, headed by former Fed chairman and respected Washington troubleshooter Paul Volcker. Why not let Volcker and his commissioners give the bill a once-over and hear what they have to say?

Maybe this is a good bill, maybe not, but it would be nice to find out before it's enacted.

Birmingham Post-Herald

May 9, 2003