The Washington Post reported Friday that, "Afflicted with the lowest morale of any large federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has done “what comes naturally to many in government. It decided to study the problem. And then study it some more.”
The Post said the initial study cost taxpayers about $1 million, but was shelved when finished. A second study cost a bit less, was duplicative, and also put on a shelf.
“So last year, still stumped about why the employees charged with safeguardingAmericans are so unhappy, the department commissioned two more studies,” the Post reported.
Homeland Security Today reported in December that DHS has long suffered from debilitating morale problems — a problem that’s been stewing for years.
Employee satisfaction at DHS plummeted to a historic low in 2014, with the department falling dead last in the annual, Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.
The survey, conducted by the Partnership of Public Service, found DHS in last place for the third consecutive year.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the ranking “unacceptable. It is entirely unacceptable that DHS ranks lowest on the list of large federal agencies on the 2014 Best Places to Work survey. This once again underscores the concerning challenges the department and its components continue to face with morale.”
To put together the rankings, the Partnership of Public Service uses data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey published by the Office of Personnel Management. Last year’s 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found morale problems continue to plague DHS despite DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s commitment to improve employee satisfaction problems.
“There’s really no excuse for the department expending finite resources on multiple studies, some at the same time, to tell the department pretty much what everyone has concluded: that there are four-to-five things that need to be done for morale,” Chris Cummiskey, who left DHS in November after serving as its third-highest-ranking official, told the Post. “You don’t need $2 million worth of studies to figure that out.”
Cummiskey said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson “understands this and is focused on delivering meaningful results for DHS employees.”
Catherine Emerson, DHS chief human capital officer, said in a statement late last year that DHS’s senior leadership “recognizes that morale and satisfaction among the agency’s 168,000 full-time, permanent employees are of vital importance and that employees deserve a workplace that acknowledges their efforts, supports their great work and fulfills their highest aspirations.”
“Since Secretary Jeh Johnson and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas assumed office … they have been committed to making our workforce’s professional fulfillment one of their highest priorities,” Emerson said. “A great deal of work is ongoing and there is much more to be done.”
Overall DHS employee satisfaction dropped from 46.8 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2014, which represented the biggest decrease among government agencies. The steepest decline in employee satisfaction came from leadership, with DHS ranking dead last in every leadership category.
“Morale has been low within various components of the department. Morale depends in very large measure on good leadership, and by filling the senior level vacancies, I believe we will inject a new energy into the department,” Johnson said in written testimony before a Senate Committee on the Judiciary DHS oversight hearing.
“Deputy Secretary Mayorkas and I also have formed a Steering Committee to identify issues impacting morale and develop discrete plans to address those issues, including the hiring and promotion process, training and professional development, rewards and recognition for employees, performance management, and employee communications," Johnson said. "In May, I presided at the first of our Secretary’s ‘Act of Valor’ awards programs, to acknowledge DHS personnel who commit acts of valor on or off duty.”
Despite these initiatives, DHS continues to suffer morale problems.
More than a year ago, the number of vacancies in the department’s top leadership posts werealso found to impact management, as well as too many “high-risk” areas long in need of urgent attention by permanent DHS leadership.
The third-largest cabinet-level department, DHS admited at the time it has a morale problem. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it’s because DHS’s ability to assess and address employee morale problems is limited.
GAO said “DHS employee job satisfaction declined in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey [FEVS] results. Specifically, 2013 FEVS data show that DHS employee satisfaction decreased 7 percentage points since 2011, which is more than the government-wide decrease of 4 percentage points over the same time period. As a result, the gap between average DHS employee satisfaction and the government-wide average widened to 7 percentage points.”
GAO also said “DHS has consistently scored lower than the government-wide average on the FEVS Leadership and Knowledge Management index, which indicates the extent to which employees hold their leadership in high regard. Since 2011, DHS’s scores for this index have decreased 5 percentage points, widening the gap between the DHS average and the government-wide average to 9 percentage points.
DHS came in last among the largest federal agencies whose leadership inspires the workforce and spurs their commitment. Slightly more than half of the workforce believes leadership is effective, and 48 percent said the department has the necessary talent to achieve its overall goals.
In separate rankings for agency subcomponents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology tied for last place among 315 agency subcomponents.
In addition, less than half of the employees from these DHS agencies gave positive responses regarding job and workplace satisfaction and commitment.
“While Secretary Johnson has made forward strides, DHS must do better,” McCaul said. “It’s time that senior leadership within the department is truly held accountable for improving employee morale.”
House Committee on the Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) last fall sent a letter to Johnson "regarding the department’s abysmal morale and urged him to rescind policies that prevent DHS employees from doing their jobs," his office said. "Leadership of the unions representing employees at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services have all stated that morale has plummeted as the Obama administration has issued policies that conflict with their congressionally-mandated jobs of securing the border, enforcing our immigration laws and maintaining the integrity of our immigration system."
In a letter to Obama, Goodlatte said, "I am concerned because DHS was just ranked last on the list of large federal agencies on the 2014 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government Survey. Further, a Washington Post article, Top-level Turnover Makes it Harder for DHS to Stay on Top of Evolving Threats, makes clear that Department of Homeland Security employees in particular experience ‘abysmal morale’ and that this has been happening for ‘quite a number of years.’"
"The article report[ed] that DHS Deputy Secretary Ali Mayorkas said the department has hired a consulting firm ‘to develop recommendations to improve morale,’" Goodlatte said. "This is a gross waste of taxpayer dollars. The way to improve morale at DHS is to simply let DHS employees do their jobs …”
Editor’s note: We inadvertently cited The Washington Times rather than The Washington Post in the original version of this report.