Today in Security - Leadership Slots at DHS Still Open

Today in Security: Leadership Slots at DHS Still Open

​Key leadership positions at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security remain vacant, raising the possibility that the agency's operations could be hampered by insufficient staffing, the Washington Post reports.

As of this week, many top positions—including secretary, deputy secretary, and three undersecretary slots—have no confirmed appointees. Overall, only 47 percent of key department slots are filled with confirmed appointees, according to the Political Appointee Tracker​ published by the Post and the Partnership for Public Service. Among Cabinet-level agencies, only Interior has a lower filled position rate, at 41 percent.

To address the subject, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing on 1 May, "Trouble at the Top: Are Vacancies at the Department of Homeland Security Undermining the Mission?" Among those who testified were John Roth, a former inspector general for DHS.

"In the best of times, DHS is an unruly and difficult-to-manage organization," Roth told the committee. "We are not in the best of times. The nature and extent of senior leadership vacancies in the department is cause for concern, as such pervasive vacancies significantly hamper the department's ability to carry out its all-important mission."

Roth pointed to "poor unity of effort" as a possible cause for the vacancies. "DHS has demonstrated an inability to mesh divergent components, with different histories, cultures, and missions, into a single agency with a unity of effort," he said. "Too often, the components operated as stand-alone entities or, worse, in competition with each other."

A few weeks ago, Gene L. Dodaro, head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and comptroller general of the United States, sent DHS a letter with 26 open recommendations to improve operations.

"Current vacancies in top leadership positions could pose a challenge to addressing high-risk areas and priority recommendations that span DHS's diverse missions, which include preventing terrorism and enhancing security, managing our borders, administering immigration laws, securing cyberspace, and responding to disasters," Dodaro said.

Some have also said that personnel shortages have had a negative effect on the governmentwide security clearance process, which continues to experience heavy backlogs. For coverage of that issue, see the article “Far Distant Clearings” in Security Management magazine.