Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 11, 2013

DHS Vacancies Watch

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 11, 2013

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.

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 11, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

Well Christian a terrific post and sure to attract the immediate attention of the WH and Congress (Senate)! GAO is in charge of enforcement of the Vacancies Act but has never really done much on that score. As to a violation no one seems to know the legal impact but I have always assumed that ratification of any official action compromised by violation might well fix the problem. As you point out at some point a tipping point is reached.

Perhaps at some point you might write to end of describing what you believe is the amount of political positioning at DHS and whether the estimated (by me) over 800 politically appointed or influenced positions is too few or two many and how has the revolving door worked at DHS?

Rick Skinner was OIG at the Independent FEMA and he probably has a book he could write about the OIG world in FEMA and DHS.

To me Jane Hull Lute, Juliette Kayem and a few others have or will achieve rock star status in the long run or short run and DHS was lucky to have them.

Interesting how former Secretaries have postured themselves as experts in physical not cyber security issues and employment.

I always find it humorous that the FBI [not part of DHS] which has an investigative not security focus has 99% of its retires getting involved as security experts.

Usually FEMA Directors during its year of independence held the job as their last job or best job ever. Not sure what that says. But now the Administrator FEMA position has become the capstone job in the FIRE SERVICE. Although Craig Fugate held the EM job for the State of Florida.

Despite several statutory mandates the regional office setup in DHS continues to plague the agency.

But hey the illusion of control plagues the
WH so why not DHS?

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 11, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

While I have certainly expressed my dismay that Secret Service agents at the WH are used to – safeguard rappers – at the Obama WH parties where we see Barry and Michelle shak’n their booty much like the uncertainty of this economy will soon be shak’n many from their present unrealistic perceptions and beliefs of fed policy, disregarding blatant lies and the indifference to the deceitful mannerisms and incompetencies we see throughout this self-serving government on both sides and certainly from the top down….

….and the same Secret Service cannot be budgeted to assure that the White House Doors continue to remain open rather than closed to our Kids who Deserve far better to afford the opportunity to see our pride as a nation in our history and so many before us who have compromised so much …

I wish to express my support of Ms. Julia Pierson as Director of the Secret Service who is a wonderful choice, an inspiration to men and women who see a police officer over the span of a career eventually become Director of the Secret Service and given her professional experience and proven competencies, while I have such disrespect for Barry Obama and his every circumvention of the Constitution and his disregard for clarity….all our good wishes to Julia Pierson as one of the few entrusted public servants who given her commitment in discipline and loyalty to the principles of this once great nation, serves our beloved Republic with pride and earnest commitment.

To the DHS, well, Madame Secretary is certainly another who I have little Respect for as I do the Attorney General and reading this article and seeing a number of key-decision-makers positions unfilled when we have funded the Arab Spring and far much more…if we do not have similarly experienced folks in such key decision-maker positions, how are we to assure that DHS has the most qualified to bring much required solutions to real challenges by those who seek our demise in every way….

Thank you for this post. I am hoping you can advise us when any of these positions are filled and affording us the backgrounds to read about the profiles of those placed in such leadership roles.

Who will be filling John Morton’s ICE Director’s all too important position for instance to allow to remain vacant?

Here on “Main Street USA” you can bet we are more than frustrated and so utterly disappointed in those on the Senate floor who cannot make pointed questions at today’s hearings to really find out what happened at the “Benghazi Massacre” with no arrests to date….what a charade! We never leave our men and women behind….

Christopher Tingus
Cape Cod, MA 02645 USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

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July 22, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

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