Help wanted: Homeland Security plagued by vacancies at the top

More than 40 percent of top jobs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are either vacant or filled by acting staff not confirmed by the Senate, congressional investigators told lawmakers Thursday.

“Undoubtedly, these vacancies have a negative impact on mission effectiveness and employee morale,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican who is House Homeland Security Committee chairman. The panel held a hearing about vacancies at the sprawling department, which was hurriedly cobbled together from 22 government agencies in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

That vacancy rate in political appointments at the department is twice as large as it was last year, David C. Maurer, director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office, told the hearing.

In 2012, 13 of 86 political appointees’ jobs were unfilled. This year, after President Obama’s second term got underway, that rose to 26.

Several of the jobs have been vacant for years. The last Senate-confirmed inspector general left in February 2011. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that guards the country’s ports of entry by land, sea and air, has never had a Senate-confirmed head under Mr. Obama.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department official President Obama has named to replace now-departed Secretary Janet Napolitano, is still waiting for the Senate to vote on his nomination. A Democratic request earlier this week for an expedited approval by unanimous consent was blocked by Republicans.

High vacancy rates in federal agencies are associated with low morale, Mr. Maurer told the hearing. He declined to express a view about which factor might have caused the other.

In surveys of morale across the federal government, Homeland Security consistently ranks at or near the bottom — and it has among the highest rate of vacancies.

Even within the department, “Those components [in Homeland Security] with the highest … vacancy rates also have the lowest morale,” Mr. Maurer said.

Witnesses told the committee that the department had far and away the highest number of politically appointed jobs for its size of any Cabinet-level department and urged that more top jobs there be filled by career officials instead.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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