In-Depth: Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to improve workforce morale at the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS):
“It’s unfortunate that the DHS workforce suffers from some of the lowest morale in the federal government. As the Committee that authorizes and oversees the Department, it’s our job not only to ensure DHS employees have a workplace that is engaging and rewarding, but to help shape a Department that is able to recruit and hire the best available talent. Under the Trump Administration, it’s especially important we do all we can to support and empower the employees of DHS. The men and women at DHS perform critical national security missions every day – ensuring their high morale is key to ensuring our country’s safety.”
After this bill passed the House in the 115th Congress, Rep. Thompson said:
“[This bill] sends a positive message to the DHS workforce by telling them that their contributions to the DHS mission are valued and they have not been forgotten as they endure new stresses and challenges under the Trump administration. Given the department’s national security mission and the increasingly scarce availability of resources, it is essential that the DHS workforce be prioritized as they are responsible for carrying out the diverse range of programs that keep our country safe.”
Writing for FedSmith, Jeff Neal, a former DHS CHCO who’s now the president of human capital consultancy ICF and founder of the ChiefHRO blog, argues that this bill doesn’t address the primary reasons underlying DHS employees’ low morale:
“The issue of DHS morale is not new, nor is it likely to be solved by the activities the bill requires… The constant criticism of the DHS workforce by the press and politicians, and some members of the public, has a corrosive effect on morale. I am not saying that bills such as the DHS MORALE Act are a bad idea, but a far more effective solution would be to support the men and women of DHS and make it clear that we value what they do… DHS is treated like the poor stepchild compared to the Department of Defense. We [have] finally learned that we should support our warfighters and value the work they do. Maybe if we extended those lessons to DHS, we really would see some big improvements in morale.”
In the current Congress, this bill passed the House Homeland Security Committee with the support of five Democratic cosponsors. Last Congress, it passed the House by a voice vote with 11 Democratic cosponsors’ support, but didn’t receive a vote in the Senate.
This bill is endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), and the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC).
Of Note: DHS has over 240,000 employees. Since its creation in 2003, the agency has consistently ranked amongst the lowest federal agencies in terms of employee morale. Morale at DHS dropped 15 percentage points from 2010 to 2015 — the biggest drop at any agency with at least 800 employees. In the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, DHS ranked last among the 17 major federal agencies in workforce morale.
In his exit memorandum, former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson noted the need for “an aggressive campaign to improve morale and satisfaction at the Department.”
When he became DHS Secretary, John Kelly — who served in that position from January to July 2017 before becoming President Trump’s Chief of Staff — said he’d encourage the agency’s employees by empowering them “to speak truth to power from the bottom up.” In an April 2017 speech, Kelly added, “The best way to improve morale is to let employees do the jobs they were hired and trained to do and recognize them for doing it.”
DHS has already begun developing some of its own leadership development initiatives. At the March 11, 2019 American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) 2019 conference, DHS CHCO Angela Bailey said:
“What we’ve decided to do is create a leadership development framework that’s generic enough that the different cultures within our different components have the ability to tailor it to what makes sense to them.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Gwengoat)