Homeland Security Department Faces Manpower Shortage
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Since its inception in 2003, the US Department of Homeland Security has faced significant challenges related to recruiting, retaining, and managing its workforce of over 170,000 employees.
The US Congress requested the Government Accountability Office to analyze DHS's attrition, efforts to recruit and retain staff, use of external employees, and compliance with certain provisions of the Vacancies Reform Act, which requires agencies to report to Congress and the Comptroller General vacancies in certain presidentially-appointed positions requiring Senate confirmation.
To conduct its work, GAO surveyed human capital personnel from DHS and its component agencies; analyzed federal personnel data files, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) documentation, and relevant legislation; and interviewed key DHS officials.
DHS's overall attrition rate for permanent employees (excluding those in the Senior Executive Service and presidential appointments) declined from 8.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2006.
These rates, which were above the roughly 4 percent average rate for all cabinet-level agencies, were affected by high levels of attrition (about 14-17 percent) among transportation security officers at DHS's Transportation Security Administration. With the security officers excluded, DHS's attrition rate was 3.3 percent. To monitor and understand attrition rates, DHS and several of its component agencies separately analyze attrition data and administer exit surveys to employees upon their departure.
The GAO has previously reported that these data are useful to agencies for workforce planning purposes. DHS used various strategies to recruit and retain employees in fiscal years 2005 and 2006. For example, DHS used human capital flexibilities in accordance with OPM guidance that included offering employee cash awards and hiring staff under a 2-year training program.
These practices and others were rated by most DHS human capital officials GAO interviewed as "very effective" recruitment or retention tools, though most component officials also cited barriers to making greater use of certain flexibilities, such as expedited hiring. DHS implemented agreements under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, allowing nonfederal employees to be temporarily assigned to a federal agency to meet mission needs.
As of September 2006, 36 such agreements were in place, roughly half of them in DHS's Science and Technology Directorate. DHS also used personal services contracts to acquire talent from outside the government on a temporary basis -- with 61 such contracts in place as of September 2006, almost all of them in Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Coast Guard.
Between March 2003 and April 2007, DHS filled 16 positions covered by the Vacancies Reform Act and complied with the "tenure provision" in all cases, which limits to 210 days the tenure of acting officials in certain positions that require presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.
However, during this same period, DHS did not always meet related reporting requirements of the act and did not have one of the five management controls that GAO has reported as necessary to ensure compliance -- written procedures documenting how to comply.
The act requires that agencies immediately report vacancies to Congress and the Comptroller General. DHS did not meet this requirement for 3 of 16 vacancies between 2003 and 2007; DHS's Office of General Counsel did not know why these vacancies were not reported.
GAO has previously reported that documented procedures are a necessary management control mechanism so that when DHS staff responsible for ensuring DHS's compliance with the act leave or are reassigned, their replacements will have established guidelines to follow.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.