Homeland Stupidity

Attrition plagues DHS senior management

Before you decide that, what with all those senior management positions open, a move into the Department of Homeland Security is good for your career, you should know that many people don’t last long there.

A government audit released Monday found that attrition rates among senior management at DHS were higher than the average of cabinet-level departments during fiscal years 2005 and 2006.

Attrition rates among the rank and file were also higher than average, though the Government Accountability Office in its report (PDF) attributed this to much higher than average attrition among Transportation Security Agency screeners.

“The DHS attrition rate for senior-level employees was 14.5 percent in fiscal year 2005 and 12.8 percent in fiscal year 2006, while the average for all cabinet-level departments was 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively,” the report said. “The attrition rate for DHS non-senior-level permanent employees declined from 8.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2006. However, both years’ rates were higher than the average for all cabinet-level executive agencies of 4.0 percent in 2005 and 3.9 percent in 2006.”

With TSA screeners, with attrition rates of 17.6 percent in 2005 and 14.6 percent in 2006, factored out, attrition among other DHS employees was 3.3 percent for both years, lower than average, GAO reported.

“It is no wonder that this department is struggling with its integration when its own headquarters has lost half of its senior staff to turnover,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said. “When senior leadership doesn’t stick around long enough for their coffee to get cold, the nation’s security suffers.”

Speaking last Tuesday to a group of lobbyists and business leaders hosted by the Cohen Group, Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson said the department is building an effective leadership team. It is understandable that most of 26 senior appointees would change when Michael Chertoff took over from Tom Ridge in early 2005, Jackson noted.

“We’re two years into a turnover of that magnitude,” Jackson said. “What you’re seeing is you have a challenge. At the political level the team is there and working. At the career level, we’re working on a succession plan” that will have top staffers cross-trained and able to take over top roles across agencies by January 2009, when a new president takes charge. — Washington Post

The report follows news last week that vacancies of senior-level positions at DHS are proving difficult to fill, with nearly one-fourth of senior-level positions vacant.

“It’s especially troubling that many of the DHS components listed as having the highest percentage of senior-level vacancies are also the same ones in charge of oversight functions and large contract programs,” wrote John Pruett, a fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.