By Jim Kouri
The Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s third largest federal agency with a workforce of over 200,000 federal workers, suffers from a bad case of low employee morale, according to a just released report submitted to the U.S. Congress on Thursday.
Since its creation in 2003, DHS has faced challenges implementing functions, and its employees have reported having low job satisfaction, according to the Government Accountability Office.
During the formation of the DHS, several law enforcement, security and organizational experts expressed fears that such a department — comprised of a diverse number of agencies, each with its own “culture” — was destined to fail.
The GAO itself at that time designated the implementation and transformation of DHS as high risk because it represented an enormous and complex undertaking that would require time to achieve in an effective and efficient manner.
The GAO analyzed DHS and component planning documents, interviewed relevant DHS officials about employee morale, and analyzed copies of the 2011 federal employee job satisfaction surveys.
GAO has previously reported on a variety of issues, including concerns about pay and a lack of trust in leadership that can lead to morale problems. The potential issues that can result in morale problems underscores the importance of looking beyond survey scores to understand the root causes of those problems and developing plans to address them.
“It’s not surprising to read this in the GAO report,” said former intelligence officer and police commander Mike Snopes. “The fact is that agency personnel — whether they be Immigration and Customs Enforcement, border patrol, or other components — give low marks to their top echelon commanders.”
Snopes points to a “vote of no-confidence” by ICE agents regarding their top leader John Morton. The U.S. Border Patrol agents are also on record complaining about their commanders’ political agenda. including that of Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Over time, surveys have consistently found that Department of Homeland Security employees are less satisfied with their jobs than the government-wide average. In the 2004, 56 percent of DHS employees responded that they were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 68 percent government-wide, stated the GAO analysts.
For example, job satisfaction index results show the Transportation Security Administration as 11 percentage points below government-wide averages while other components, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, posted above average results, according to the GAO analysts.
Joseph Wallen, a security manager specializing in security officer training, believes the TSA employees have the lowest morale since they are openly ridiculed by some political leaders, the news media and even “comedians” on cable news networks.
“No government job is held in such low regard as an airport screener. Most college-educated Americans look at them as nothing more than janitors. And unfortunately, too many times they’re treated that way,” said Wallen.
In subsequent years, the disparity continued — ranging from a difference of 8 percentage points in 2006 to a 4 percentage point difference in 2008, 2010, and 2011, the GAO reported.
In 2011, DHS’s percentage of positive responses was lower than the averages for the rest of the federal government. For example, slightly less than half of the DHS employees surveyed reported positive responses to the statement “My talents are used well in the workplace,” nearly 12 percentage points less than the rest of the federal government average.
In two areas, DHS’s percentage of positive responses was nearly the same or higher than the rest of the federal government average. For example, DHS’s percentage of positive responses to the statement “Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your pay?” was not statistically different than the rest of the federal government average. Job satisfaction data for 2011 show that satisfaction levels vary across DHS components.
DHS has taken steps to identify where it has the most significant employee satisfaction problems and developed plans to address those problems, but has not yet improved DHS employee satisfaction survey results.
According to DHS officials, DHS is working with a contractor on a new department-wide analysis of root causes of employee morale. As of March 2012, this analysis was not complete. DHS and its components are also taking steps to improve components’ positive response rates to selected survey items.
Given the critical nature of DHS’s mission to protect the security and economy of the United States, it is important that DHS employees are satisfied with their jobs so that DHS can attract and retain the talent required to complete its work. GAO officials said they will continue to assess DHS’s efforts to address employee job satisfaction and expects to issue a report on its results in September 2012