Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 22, 2008

DHS Transition Looks to Pinch Hitters

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on April 22, 2008

An AP story by Scott Lindlaw sheds some light on how DHS is preparing for its first ever presidential transition. On or about January 20, 2009, DHS will lose its political appointees who will leave when the new president comes to town. Shane Harris at the National Journal put that into perspective with his piece on the impending transition as follows:

According to figures compiled in the quadrennial Plum Book by the Office of Personnel Management, as of September 2004 the 180,000-employee Homeland Security Department had more than 360 politically appointed, noncareer positions.

By contrast, the Veterans Affairs Department — the government’s second-largest department, at 235,000 employees — had only 64. And the Defense Department — far and away the largest department in the government, at 2.1 million employees, including military and civilian — counted 283 appointed, noncareer billets. That figure includes political appointees at the Army, Navy, and Air Force. DHS’s own reports show that since 2004, it has often added more political positions to its ranks, and more frequently, than other large departments.

Secretary Chertoff told Lindlaw that the department is “working to line up career officials for about 50 key roles” to manage DHS until the next president’s appointees are named and, if necessary, confirmed by the Senate. This could take months, but the new Secretary of Homeland Security is likely to be on a fast track through the Senate.

Next month, AP reports, DHS is convening a three-day conference with nearly 200 senior career officials to conduct a table-top exercise in response to a scenario depicting a national-level incident. It is unclear if this effort includes state and local partners, international counterparts, or even officials from other departments (i.e. Defense).

In some ways, we are seeing the impact of the work done by the Administration Transition Task Force, organized under the auspices of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, that issued earlier this year its report with basic recommendations for the DHS transition. However, there is still a sense in the Congress that DHS is conducting the transition planning effort behind closed doors. An article in the Wall Street Journal about the effort to convert political appointee positions to career slots in advance of the next election contributed to the Congressional oversight of DHS transition planning.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Secretary Chertoff traded letters in which Thompson requested more information on the DHS plans. In his response, Chertoff declines to provide the laundry list of details requested by the Committee. “In most cases, the transition planning documents are still under development and, in any event, they constitute executive branch materials intended to be shared in the first instance with the incoming administration.”

UPDATE: Special thanks to William Cumming for sending in the CRS report released yesterday on “National Security Considerations and Options” related to the 08-09 presidential transition. You can download a copy here.

The report outlines critical issues that pertain to five phases of a transition, spanning from the campaign to the inauguration. The report also includes a table of recent military operations occurring during Presidential transitions and a table of Congressional legislation addressing various aspects of national security during Presidential transitions.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2008 @ 11:27 am

Interesting post. Too bad the PLUM BOOK or Prune Book as some call it not yet out. My guess is that at least 8-900 positions in DHS are politically vetted. Perhaps more. One item that could be useful in analyzing the real impact of appointees, whether or not confirmed by the Senate, would be to require a written position description of each political position in each department and agency. The Presidential Records Act means that usually the White House offices are swept clean but that is why official record keeping is so important in transitions. It may take years for a new Presidential library to get set up for document requests. A complete set of documents should be sent to the Archives but instead of empty shelves, there should be a duplicate set of documents left for new personnel. Finally, Congress should act so that for key national security and homeland security positions, the incumbents could not be dismissed except for a written statement of reasons excluding party affiliation, until a new appointee is sworn in. Too much is at risk when innocence or ignorance shows up in key federal jobs. It is no longer necessary that the country risk amatuer night for extended periods of time. Congress could establish some number of positions eligible for continuity in each department and agency. Sure some abuse may occur but it is better to have an accountable officer or official even if an appointee, if the worse comes to be and a crisis involving the program, funcitons, or activities of that appointee occurs. At some point there must be trust that the incumbents had or have some competence. Proof in the pudding of course.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » DHS Transition Plans Emerge

April 25, 2008 @ 6:43 am

[…] follow up to the April 22 post detailing an aspect of the DHS Transition Plan, the House Homeland Security Committee posted a […]

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