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DHS: Does Anyone Care Anymore?

It’s really hard not to be cynical in America anymore. We are the world’s only superpower, but have a Congress that is the functional equivalent of an over-sugared, hyperactive preschool class; a White House with an all-over-the-map national security strategy; and an increasingly polarized populace reinforced by a 24/7 media machine that finds shouting more ratings-worthy than conversing about facts.

If you work in homeland security, and in particular, DHS, that cynicism may be even stronger given that your boss, and probably their boss, and the boss’ boss is serving in an “acting” capacity. Vacuums of leadership have become so prolific at DHS it would not be uncommon to be introduced to someone and ask if they too were “acting” in some capacity. Resignations and employee departures are nothing new. They happen in every workplace, be they public or private sector, but in DHS they have become so prolific that the norm has become “acting.”

So that begs the question about DHS: “Does anyone care anymore?”

Congress continues to perfect an overly complicated, confusing and cumbersome oversight process, while the administration can’t find people to take leadership positions to move the department forward. DHS has always had personnel turnover issues, but they’ve become chronic, if not commonplace.

Now, before anyone misinterprets my question, I am not accusing any of the 200,000+ DHS employees that show up every day to their part in protecting the homeland of not caring about their jobs or their responsibilities. If there has been any steadfast group of people that has performed in spite of almost constant internal and operational turmoil, it is this crowd. But I do have to wonder about whether the administration and Congress care.

DHS cbp inspecting truck for heroin

Two U.S. Customs & Border Protection Officers inspecting the remains of a pickup truck that was found to have 5.4 pounds of heroin concealed in the transfer case. The vehicle was trying to bring the heroin in from Mexico. The vehicle was searched at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry. U.S. Department of Homeland Security photo

While the rhetoric and stump speeches about “safeguarding the American public” are cast in steel boilerplate for speeches, press releases and photo ops, it’s always actions that speak louder than words, and those are few and far between.  Congress continues to perfect an overly complicated, confusing and cumbersome oversight process, while the administration can’t find people to take leadership positions to move the department forward. DHS has always had personnel turnover issues, but they’ve become chronic, if not commonplace.

Add these conditions to a lack of any meaningful pay raises, sequestration, poor facilities and perpetual demonization of federal employees by politicians, and it’s accurate to say they’ve been treated like crap.

This does not bode well for the maturing of the department. Since its start, its then Congressional patrons and the then-Bush Administration said they expected it would take time for the entire organization to jell and come together. Everyone was quick to compare the DHS integration and maturing effort to the creation of the Department of Defense and the later Goldwater-Nichols Act that brought the various military functions into better mission alignment. For DHS that alignment and functional maturing would be true if it had stable ingredients in the form of leadership, which the military institutionally possesses, but sadly those off-the-shelf items do not appear to be anywhere in the department’s cupboards at the moment.

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Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...