Employee morale at the Department of Homeland Security has sunk to new lows, despite new leadership under Secretary Jeh Johnson and other senior DHS officials. The 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey found that only 21 percent of employees in the DHS Science and Technology Directorate had confidence in their leadership’s ability to “generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.’’
Embedded employee dissatisfaction has proven difficult to uproot for Secretary Johnson. Redundant and often conflicting congressional oversight certainly hasn’t helped, as top officials struggle to remain focused on their core homeland security responsibilities.
Johnson has noted, “I do agree that when I have 108 committees and subcommittees of Congress performing an oversight function, it takes a lot of time to deal with all of the oversight, which detracts from the core mission that I think you want me to pay attention to.”
According to The Washington Post, “More than 90 committees and subcommittees have some jurisdiction over DHS, nearly three times the number that oversee the Defense Department.”
This problem stems from the way DHS was created, when 22 autonomous organizations were combined under one umbrella without assigning congressional oversight to a single committee.
The consequences of this inaction are clearly visible 10 years later. In 2009, DHS officials spent the equivalent of 66 work years responding to congressional requests at a cost to taxpayers of about $10 million.
Time and work that could be spent on homeland security matters and employee morale issues are instead geared toward e-mailing, meeting, and briefing the committees and subcommittees. The range of committees also creates disjointed policy that makes it difficult for the DHS to mold into one unified structure.
Heritage expert James Carafano noted in 2004 that it would be essential for the internal stability of the DHS to have one permanent oversight committee: “We need a Homeland Security Committee to draw together the disparate players and agencies, infuse them with a common institutional culture and set of priorities and assess and set the priorities for what it takes to make our nation safe.” Ten years later, this is still not a reality.
Of the many problems plaguing the DHS, congressional oversight should be one of the easiest to fix. Power politics stands in the way of this simple, common-sense and bipartisan reform.
Ellen Prichard is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.