Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 14, 2006

Article surveys key vacancies at DHS

Filed under: DHS News,Organizational Issues,Privacy and Security — by Christian Beckner on March 14, 2006

This Washington Technology story provides a good overview of the current plethora of job vacancies among the senior leadership team at DHS, an issue that I’ve commented about frequently over the last few months. The article includes a number of quotes about these vacancies; for example:

“The vacancies have made a huge impact,” said Matthew Farr, industry analyst with Frost and Sullivan Ltd. of San Antonio. “People there are leaving constantly. There is a constant revolving door. They have all the responsibility with hardly any of the authority they need.”

One of the first lessons of management is that there needs to be a very close alignment between individual responsibility and authority in any organization, if it is to succeed. To the extent that DHS is not empowered by Congress and the White House to execute the tasks that it’s nominally responsible for, then that’s a problem. And to the extent that the DHS senior leadership does not empower its constituent agencies and directorates to take initiative and carry out the tasks that they are responsible for, then that’s also a problem. Until responsibility and authority are aligned, DHS will continue to be at risk in terms of its performance and accountability.

The discussion of the DHS privacy officer post is also notable:

Thompson and others also have expressed concern about the post of chief privacy officer going unfilled.

“There is talk about downgrading the importance of that office,” said Jim Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group in Washington.

O’Connor Kelly, the former chief privacy officer, made a point of getting involved in assessing privacy while programs were still in development and in having a say in policy, but those activities may be reduced as the position continues to be vacant, Dempsey said.

Hopefully DHS will not “downgrade” this important office. It’s now been nearly six months since O’Connor Kelly left, and an appointment is overdue.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 14, 2006 @ 6:05 am

It becomes clearer and clearer that DHS as a concept is a victim of internal and external culture wars. New departments and agencies leaderships are rarely lucky or skilled enough to identify which of the cultures it contains are successful or potentially successful in its established environment or the one or ones to be established. 60,000 FTE’s in DHS tote guns and badges or are uniformed. These personnel can retire after 20 years as opposed to the normal civil service age 55 and 30 years (both criteria must be met or a discount is taken). This factor alone would make establishment of a cohesive effective and efficient culture or cultures in DHS. When will our system recognize that a 25-35 year old political appointee (rumored to number 700 in DHS) is unlikely to have experienced the range of management culture to bring to his/her job what is needed. That combined with the approximately 30% below needed salary levels for civil servants makes one wonder why should anyone want to work in DHS. This could become a huge blackmark on the Bush 43 years and again his “fault” in creating DHS is only partially his own. The times and circumstances may just be too much for the system. It is interesting how silent the Public Administration profession has been about DHS and its goings on or its going under.


Comment by Jeff Fisher

March 14, 2006 @ 10:52 am

My observations from inside the NAC were not very favorable. First, there is no clear guidance and mission delineation. Most every department, office, and division has a mission statement; however it is the typical PowerPoint statement that lacks substance and the interconnected agency mission. You cannot look at DHS as a puzzle in which all of the pieces fit together providing one picture. Without a clear mission statement one cannot derive an endstate, which further means you cannot figure out how to get there. I recognize that this is a broad statement and there are units that are focused, however, the agency as a whole is moving about without clear guidance or a focused direction.

The second area I observed is that there are too many government bureaucrats shuffled over to DHS simply to rid the former agency of a dud. This is a common practice found in most organizations, but again what complicates the problem is the lack of a clear mission. In chaos the weak have a chance. If I was to describe the atmosphere in DHS, it would liken to the CBS series Survivor. We know that in an actual survival situation most all of the top winners would never survive, but in the pseudo world of television, the most cunning and devious come out on top. So it goes within DHS. Because there is no real tangible mission there are no standards to measure performance.

One person not mentioned in the article was General Broderick. His departure is more telling than any of the vacancies. Contained within the Operations Coordination Center is suppose to be the equivalent of the DoD J3 (Operations) and J5 (Plans) staffs. This directorate has been flat on its back for some time and with hurricane season rapidly approaching there is little doubt DHS is going to struggle immensely. The unfortunate situation was that Broderick never had the authority needed to be an effective command and control entity. And it was the command and control sphere that both FEMA and DHS failed during Katrina.

Making the situation worst is the fact that the NRP is a weak document and is still being used as the foundation of emerging plans. What is amazing is that DHS, particularly the Office of Infrastructure Protection, is continuing to plan based upon the model that failed in New Orleans. (It should be noted that as I stated, the Operations Coordination should be planning all contingency and support plans, however this reasonability for some reason has be given to the Office of Infrastructure Protection under Robert Stephens and his former I-staff.) One question that comes to my mind is what is happening to critical infrastructure protection when OIP is focused on consequence management?

Consequence management planning requires an in-depth knowledge rarely found outside DoD. But from this emerges another issue and that is the loathing of anything resembling DoD or the military. Where do lawyers gain the experience to manage large scale protection operations or consequence management; it is ridiculous to believe they are equipped to handle the situation. If one goes below the surface of DHS you will find a lot of lawyers, but very few military planners. While the Coast Guard does have some of the skill sets needed, they lack the ability to plan large scale land and air operations because there is no institutional history as such.

The bottom-line is that DHS is in big trouble and we need to begin to worry. Our country has been able to mitigate terrorist activity while other agencies hold the line until DHS organizes, but there will come a time when the other agencies will have to turn their attention to their own mission leaving a deficient and unprepared DHS to step in. Then what?


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 14, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

Excellent comment (number 2)! Is DHS the safety net or just a bureacratic assemblage? Is there a cannot fail attitude or just time-servers? Again what is the culture and what does the country want in the way of homeland defense?

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