Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 29, 2006

USA Today on the DHS “brain drain”

Filed under: DHS News,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on March 29, 2006

USA Today gives front-page treatment to a story familiar to HLS Watch readers: the “brain drain” at DHS:

The Homeland Security Department is losing top managers and rank-and-file employees in a brain drain that could affect morale and the nation’s safety, according to members of Congress and labor experts.

Homeland Security is “hemorrhaging on the front lines and higher up,” says New York University professor Paul Light, an expert on the federal workforce. The turnover comes amid renewed threats of terrorism and as the department readies itself for another hurricane season.

Key vacancies include top leaders in the department’s cyber-security, technology and disaster response divisions.

The latest high-level departure came last week, when management chief Janet Hale announced she was leaving. She joined an exodus of top officials who have quit recently, many in the aftermath of Homeland Security’s failures surrounding Hurricane Katrina last fall.

This month, operations chief Matthew Broderick resigned. Last month, Science and Technology Undersecretary Charles McQueary resigned. And in January, Chief Financial Officer Andy Maner quit.

Meanwhile, the job of cyber-security chief has been vacant since last summer. David Paulison has been the acting chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency since Michael Brown resigned the $148,000 post in September; no permanent replacement has been found. FEMA is part of Homeland Security.

I actually don’t think that the departure of these senior managers is the key problem; that’s a natural part of the political appointee cycle. Instead, I’m more concerned about the delays with which people are replaced and posts are filled. And of arguably greater significance is the apparent dissatisfaction among the ranks of DHS’s career employees, both at headquarters and in the constituent agencies; they’re the lifeblood of DHS, who will still be around long after the current wave of political appointees has left the Department.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 29, 2006 @ 7:21 pm

There are now 17 PAS (Presidentially Appointed Senate confirmed) positions in DHS. DOD has approximately 60. An interesting analysis would be to compare the turnover ratio at each Department. The bench is shorter than ever for the Republicans as it was for the Democrats. Perhaps a different system should be designed. As in 2-3 year term appointments that would overlap Presidential election years by 6-9 months. The nation’s talent shortage is demonstrated by both parties, and that combined with ethics and security clearances (many not really necessary as long as available alternatives exist such as credit reports)makes the system adsurb.


Comment by Jeff Fisher

March 30, 2006 @ 3:39 pm

This has “scary” written all over it and everyone should be concerned on a couple of levels. On one level this is the first time since 1946 that a real cabinet department has been created, however note the time it has taken to get to the point we are today. This is pathetic. There is absolute no reason DHS should be so far behind the curve ball. The American people through the cockroaches in Congress should be up and arms about this malady called DHS. The Republicans have to get off their asses in Congress and do something about this because cabinet departments just don’t wither on the vine; and with a concept as important as DHS, we need to get things moving. It shouldn’t be this hard, even in the leviathan called the USG.

One another level we should be concerned about who is running the place; who is leaving and why they are leaving; and why no one want to work there. Christian, I disagree with you concerning the departure of senior level personnel. They are leaving because they cannot administer: it is as simple as it gets. No one has any authority, yet everyone has authority. It is truly an insane asylum being run by the patients. This is a time when pundits that talk about what is going on in DHS have no idea. To truly understand you have to work there. I can say I have never worked in an organization that has such low morale. And the answer is simple why no one is coming in because this is a sinking ship.

Concerning the running of DHS; I can tell you it is the lowest common denominator. The majority of the folks that are there are opportunists that have their eyes fixed on an ES position, an under-secretary position, and in the case of the shallowest, a White House position. Advancement is part of the fabric of life, but at DHS it is completely different. Most of the “less than desirables” are political appointees or as I described earlier this month, just plain bottom feeders, DUDs. These are folks with no skill sets necessary to be in Homeland Security. They have no experience with crisis operations, military operations, consequence management, disaster management, and have the most rudimentary understanding of simple organization and business practices. What is a simple task at any other department is an excruciating process in DHS.

Speaking about processes, let’s talk about plans and publications. In the last weeks USNORTHCOM released its plan for Avian Flu; have you seen one plan emerge out of DHS lately? The answer is no; why because if you put a room full of lawyers together nothing happens. Now what about publications; DoD has released a series of documentation concerning Homeland Defense and the GWOT, but when was the last time DHS published any guidance that can be used for interagency planning? Well the only document that comes to mind is the NRP, and that has serious flaws. Between Policy, Management, Preparedness, and Operations Coordination, the lot of them could not develop a plan to exit an open field.

I do have a solution. For those “wantabe” Presidents like McCain, Feingold, Allen, and Clinton, how about one of them running the show for two years. Let’s see one of them run Management or Operations Coordination. Then I bet we will see a different light shed on DHS. But if they succeeded, then I would say that they had the ability to run something more than their cockroach motel room they occupy in the Senate.

Pingback by » WaPo examines the impact of DHS employee turnover Homeland Security Policy Institute

September 21, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

[…] the Department is now three times as old as it was when the report was released. And in 2006, I blogged about a USA Today piece that addresses a strikingly similar set of […]

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