Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 18, 2015

DHS Secretary: “We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.”

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on April 18, 2015

From: Office of the Secretary 

Sent: Thursday, April 16, 2015 8:17 PM
Subject: Message from the Secretary

 April 16, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

This morning a congressional subcommittee held yet another hearing on the subject of low morale at various government agencies. Catherine Emerson, our Chief Human Capital Officer, was called as a witness.

But, before the hearing this subcommittee got a surprise personal visit from me.

My message to Congress (and the press): one of the ways we are improving morale is to stop telling the workforce you suffer from low morale. We have moved on. We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.

The Deputy Secretary and I have an action plan to address concerns about fairness and transparency in hiring, promotion and training opportunities. We are building a pilot program to share employee ideas. We are thanking people for their good work. We are undertaking a number of other initiatives.

This morning I also told Congress that they can work with me, by addressing pay and workforce issues. In fact, the men and women all across the Department of Homeland Security are upbeat, dedicated and patriotic.

In 479 days as your Secretary, I have met enough of you to know this. Last month, I wrote you about Carol Richel, the TSA supervisor in New Orleans who suffered a gunshot wound on one day and came to work the next day. Carol is an example of the spirit I see every day-ranging from the TSA and CBP personnel I met yesterday at the Philadelphia airport, to the health care worker who treated Ebola victims in West Africa, and the Border Patrol agents I met last summer working overtime on the southern border.

Each of you deserves a thank you from the American people. Keep up the good work.


Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security



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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 18, 2015 @ 7:58 am

Morale is tricky to fix. When Director of FEMA James Lee Witt once told me “Bill 20% of the FEMA workforce does 95% of the work”! His perception not mine. But I do note that workload is often not equally shared for many reasons.

Management is more ART than Science IMO.

But the first step is to make sure all of management has informed its subordinates of its vision and shared hopes and concerns.

PAS [presidentially appointed Senate confirmed] appointees do not have position descriptions. That is why each Senate committee part of the confirmation process needs to have published what legal authorities, vested in the President and then delegated, or vested directly in the appointee, will provide the outlines of the appointees job.

When taking an oath to defend the CONSTITUTION against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to faithfully execute the laws, would you be surprised that many members of Congress have no idea what laws they have oversight of, and many appointees have no clue.

THERE IS NO SECRET LAW in the USA so why not post on all those Committee and Department and agency websites what laws for which they have oversight and for appointees administrative responsibility?

Comment by S. T. More

April 19, 2015 @ 12:14 am

From what I have read, observed, and heard from those who work for DHS, Secretary Johnson is sincere in his desire to address morale at DHS. He seems much more willing to look at the organizational challenges and workforce morale issues than did his predecessor. In addition, his prior experience at DOD equips him with the perspective of someone who has worked in an even larger government agency which works more effectively than the one he now runs. Clearly, there are significant, and obvious reasons for the difference between the two–obvious ones being the maturity of DOD and its more clearly defined mission.

The Secretary has made addressing morale a priority, but I am not sure that his admonition to stop talking about morale as the agency has “moved on” is wise. While it appears true that many steps are being taken to address the issue, the reality is that DHS staff and Congress will only stop talking about morale when it is clear that it is improving.

Looking at the DHS results of the Best Places to Work Survey from the Partnership for Public Service shows some very troubling 2014 results, and trends for DHS related to the views that employees hold regarding leadership of the agency. (Tried to insert relevant sections of the survey but with no luck–my technology challenges persist. Apologies if the links do not work.)


Most troubling for the health of the agency are the perceptions regarding the Department’s senior leadership. While for DHS all categories of employee views measured (with the exception of perceptions regarding pay) fell,the most dramatic fall was in the views of the Department’s senior leadership. (Only 31.5% of employees viewed the senior leadership of DHS as effective, a 3.7% drop from the previous year.)

While it is unclear what specifically drives these views, I will venture a couple of guesses. First, there have been significant allegations of incompetence or even wrongdoing by senior leaders at DHS, but even allegations of wrongdoing at lower levels of the Department, left unaddressed, or inadequately addressed would seem to have a bearing on the views of employees of those agencies as to their confidence in their senior leaders.





Second, the shifting priorities, and lack of a clear focus and the resulting criticism of the agencies, probably most apparent in the TSA regarding its behavior detection program, and at the immigration agencies with the controversial roll-out of Executive Immigration Reform, likely contribute to the low viewpoint scores for DHS.



It will be interesting to see whether the measures being taken lead to a change in the employee survey results, and in particular whether the views of employees regarding their senior leaders at DHS senior leadership improve, or continue the downward trend.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 19, 2015 @ 9:26 am

Is there a published statement of mission and goals for each component of DHS and for DHS overall? Links?

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