OIG: DHS Must Improve Oversight of Misconduct and Discipline

An internal review has found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have sufficient policies and procedures to address employee misconduct. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within DHS said the Department’s policy does not include procedures for reporting allegations of misconduct, clear and specific supervisor roles and expectations, or clearly defined key discipline terms.

OIG found the deficiencies occurred because DHS’ Employee Relations office has limited staff, who do not believe they are responsible for managing the allegation process. DHS also does not effectively manage the misconduct program throughout the Department, lacking data monitoring and metrics to gauge program performance.

As part of the review, OIG distributed a survey to identify how DHS employees perceive the Department’s disciplinary process. Although the results of the employee survey were overall favorable, respondents identified areas of weakness, including negative perceptions of senior leaders’ behavior and the need for more employee relations training for supervisors. Given the survey results and the lack of sufficient policies and procedures, OIG found the Department cannot ensure it treats all employees equally or that components have properly addressed or referred all misconduct allegations.

49 percent of survey respondents felt that senior leaders were less likely to be disciplined for violating workplace rules, regulations, or standards of conduct than other employees. For example, 58 percent of Transportation Security Administration respondents felt that their senior leaders were less likely to be disciplined.

OIG is making eight recommendations to DHS:

  1. The Under Secretary for Management should designate or establish an entity with sufficient size and authority to oversee the Department’s entire misconduct process from allegations to disciplinary actions.

DHS concurs and says the Deputy Under Secretary for Management will convene a working group of representatives from the OCHCO, Office of the Chief Security Officer, Office of General Counsel, and Component investigative offices to determine what enhancements can be made to the entirety of the misconduct allegation, investigation, and disciplinary process. DHS estimates the above will be complete by May 31, 2020.

  1. The Under Secretary for Management should ensure the designated entity implements a formal reporting process, with documented procedures for handling and reporting all misconduct allegations.

DHS says the working group that the Deputy Under Secretary for Management convenes will document reporting processes and procedures for handling and reporting misconduct allegations.

  1. The Chief Human Capital Officer should revise the DHS Discipline and Adverse Actions Program directive and instruction to provide comprehensive guidance, including definitions for key misconduct terms and the use of alternative discipline.

DHS says it will update Directive 250-09, “Discipline and Adverse Actions Program,” to include additional definitions by September 30, 2019.

  1. The Under Secretary for Management should require that the designated misconduct oversight entity conduct a comprehensive assessment of components’ policies to establish a baseline for handling allegations and disciplinary actions that promotes quality and consistency across components.

DHS concurs and states that the working group established in response to the first recommendation will also examine whether additional policies are necessary for handling allegations of misconduct.

  1. The Chief Human Capital Officer should work with the Under Secretary for Management to require the designated misconduct oversight entity: a. identify all offices that receive misconduct allegations or identify potential misconduct; and b. establish a system of record and process to routinely capture, manage, and monitor components’ management of misconduct.

DHS concurs and is developing a case tracking system that will track disciplinary and adverse actions across all components and will develop a reporting process to capture, manage, and monitor component’s management of discipline and adverse action. The estimated completion date for this work is March 31, 2022.

  1. The Chief Human Capital Officer should establish objectives and performance metrics for the Employee Relations office and implement written standard operating procedures defining the office’s responsibilities.

DHS recently developed a standard operating procedure following the OIG audit.

  1. The Chief Human Capital Officer should develop and implement a process to assess the effectiveness of the Department’s disciplinary program. The process should include documented procedures, measurable goals, and periodic trend analyses.

DHS concurs and says it has established a yearly review of disciplinary and adverse action trends.

  1. The Chief Human Capital Officer should work with the Under Secretary for Management to evaluate survey responses and develop a corrective action plan to address unfavorable results.

DHS concurs and adds that the Chief Human Capital Officer will review survey responses and develop a corrective action plan to address unfavorable results by October 31, 2019.

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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