Personnel, Leadership Issues Continue to Plague DHS

By Stew Magnuson

Government shutdowns and freezes in pay have taken their toll on the morale of federal workers — particularly those at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a recent survey.

DHS for the second year in a row was ranked last in an annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey compiled by the Partnership for Public Service from data collected by the Office of Personnel Management.
Overall, 53 percent of DHS respondents said they were dissatisfied with their jobs. There were 19 large agencies in its category. NASA came in at number one with a 74 percent rating saying they were satisfied with their jobs.

Only 42 percent of employees at the department said they had effective leadership.

The department’s three largest agencies — Federal Emergency Management Agency, Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Administration — all reported numbers in the 43 to 46 range when it came to workers believing they had effective leaders. Only 47 percent of employees in the office of the secretary said they served under effective leaders.

At least there now is a permanent secretary. After months of waiting for the Obama administration to name an appointee, Jeh Johnson was sworn in as the fourth DHS secretary on Dec. 16. This followed months of DHS being led by an acting leader. Alejandro Meyorkas was also sworn in as deputy secretary Dec. 23 some six months after his nomination because of Republican opposition.

A Senate hearing to vet John Roth as the new inspector general was held Jan. 8, which comes almost three years after this position was left vacant.

That still leaves several senior positions at DHS unfilled or covered by “acting” leaders, including: chief of staff, chief financial officer, undersecretary of the national infrastructure protection directorate, undersecretary of science and technology, undersecretary of the office of intelligence and analysis, along with the heads of major agencies such as CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

An upcoming job to fill will be commandant of the Coast Guard. Adm. Robert J. Papp’s four-year term ends in May. No successor has been named.

The vacancies prompted a House Homeland Security hearing, in which Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, lamented that some 40 percent of leadership positions at DHS remained unfilled.

“Undoubtedly, these vacancies have a negative impact on mission effectiveness and company morale,” he said.

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge testified at the hearing that the leadership void was indeed troubling, and needed to be solved by the Obama administration.

However, he noted that Congress has yet to fix one of the ongoing problems that dates back to his tenure a decade ago. There are too many congressional committees with oversight responsibilities. Some 88 committees and subcommittees hold hearings, demand testimony and information from senior leaders.

“The endless barrage of hill inquiries and preparation for testimony drains from the department’s leadership … one of its most important resources: time. And it is certainly a morale issue for those whose primary mission is, not to bounce from committee hearing to committee hearing, but, to lead their agencies, bureaus and programs,” Ridge said.

Topics: Homeland Security, DHS Budget, DHS Policy

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