We are now more than halfway through 2013, and the number of vacancies of leadership positions at DHS continues to increase. Until two weeks ago, the President had not yet nominated a single official to serve at DHS in a Senate-confirmed position, and had only made one senior-level appointment to a position that does not require Senate confirmation – the selection of Julia Pierson to serve as the new director of the Secret Service.
Having a certain level of senior-level vacancies in a Cabinet department is normal, given the typical churn of confirmed and appointed officials. But if enough positions are open for a long enough period of time, it can lead to significant operational and management risks to that Department, and also diminishes its accountability to the U.S. Congress.
I am afraid that the Department of Homeland Security is now at the point where it is facing these risks. As I note below, there are currently no less than 14 senior-level vacancies at DHS. Given this, I think that it is critical that the White House prioritize nominations and appointment for the key positions listed below, and that when nominations are made, that the Senate act quickly on nominations for qualified candidates.
Below is a list of the Senate-confirmed positions that are currently unfilled (or will soon be unfilled) at DHS:
1. Deputy Secretary: Former Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute stepped down in May 2013. Under Secretary for NPPD Rand Beers is currently serving as Acting Deputy Secretary. On June 27th, the White House nominated current USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas to become the new Deputy Secretary, and his nomination is pending with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. His confirmation would open up a new vacancy at USCIS.
2. Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis: Former Under Secretary for I&A Caryn Wagner left DHS in December 2012. Bill Tarry has been serving as Acting Under Secretary since that date, but his acting role will hit the 210 day limit under the Vacancies Act in the next ten days. No nomination has been announced yet.
3. General Counsel: Former GC Ivan Fong left DHS in September 2012. Former Counselor to Secretary Napolitano John Sandweg was named as Acting General Counsel, but is now listed on the DHS website as Principal Deputy General Counsel, presumably because he had been in the acting position for longer than the 210 days allowed by the Vacancies Act.
4. Inspector General: Former IG Richard Skinner left DHS in January 2011. The President nominated Roslyn Mazer to serve in the position in July 2011, and her nomination was withdrawn in June 2012 following opposition by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It’s now been over a year since her nomination was withdrawn, and no new nominee has been put forward. Charles Edwards served as Acting IG until hitting the Vacancies Act limit and is currently listed as the Deputy IG on the OIG’s website. He is currently being accused of a range of abuses of his position in a letter sent last month by Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Ron Johnson.
5. Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection: Alan Bersin was nominated as CBP Commissioner in September 2009, and in March 2010 was put in the position via a recess appointment by the President. The Senate Finance Committee held a nomination hearing for Bersin in May 2010, but his nomination was never reported out of the Finance Committee, and his recess appointment expired at the end of 2011. Since that time, former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski have served as Acting Commissioner, but no new nominee has been put forward.
6. Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement: ICE Director John Morton announced his intent to resign in June and is departing at the end of July.
In addition to these six Senate-confirmed position, there are also senior leadership vacancies in at least eight other senior positions that do not require Senate confirmation, including Chief Privacy Officer, Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Health Affairs, Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, Chief Information Officer, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs, and Executive Secretary.