Lawmakers blasted the Department of Homeland Security today for not formalizing the use of protective face masks by employees working along the U.S.-Mexico border during the recent swine flu outbreak, suggesting the department has placed bureaucratic considerations ahead of the health and safety of its own workers.
Homeland Security Undersecretary for Management Elaine C. Duke told members of a House subcommittee Thursday afternoon that DHS based its decisions on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies coordinating the federal government’s swine flu response.
Duke admitted that some Customs and Border Protection supervisors at U.S.-Mexico border crossings did not permit CBP officers to wear masks while screening travelers. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made the ultimate decision on protective masks, Duke said.
“Your excuses are lame when you say you’re following the medical advice,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) told Duke.
“If I’ve got to legislate that they have the right wear masks to protect themselves, their family and their communities, that’s what I’ll do. But I shouldn’t have to blow up the bureaucracy to get something done,” he said.