Homeland Security’s Morale Crisis Puts Americans at Risk
Policy + Politics

Homeland Security’s Morale Crisis Puts Americans at Risk

  • New warnings emerge of a rise in homegrown terror.
  • Debilitating morale issues have worsened under the Obama administration.
  • An unmotivated workforce could miss the signals.

Amid a new warning that homegrown terrorists and “lone wolves” inspired by ISIS may be planning attacks in this country, the Department of Homeland Security must be at the top of its game to guard against renewed terrorist activities.

Over the weekend CNN reported that the FBI and DHS have voiced “fresh concerns” in a new security bulletin about possible terrorist attacks by U.S.-based terrorists sympathetic to ISIS. These attacks would be aimed at FBI agents, other law enforcement personnel and members of the news media.

Related: New U.S. Price Tag for the War Against ISIS: $40 Billion a Year 

Yet a new government survey shows that the massive homeland security department is plagued by what The Washington Post described as longstanding “debilitating morale problems” that have worsened during the Obama administration and “grown more serious” since Secretary Jeh Johnson took over in December.

The personnel problems were documented in the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, an annual survey by the Office of Personnel Management to measure government morale and efficiency. While a substantial majority of DHS employees are hard-working and dedicated to carrying out their mission, the study shows that “many say the department discourages innovation, treats employees in an arbitrary fashion and fails to recruit skilled personnel,” according to data obtained by The Post

More than 40,000 DHS workers responded to the survey, and only 41.6 percent said they were satisfied with their employer, down from 44.4 percent the previous year.

The results were particularly damning for Johnson, a former federal prosecutor and general counsel of the Department of Defense who vowed to improve morale when he took the reins of the department. In the case of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, responsible for research and development, only 21 percent of employees expressed positive views of their leader’s ability to “generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workplace,” said The Post.

Related: DHS Winks at Workers Stealing Unearned Overtime

Created by Congress and the Bush administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, DHS serves as an umbrella organization for more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and roughly 230,000 employees. The workers are involved in everything from border security and immigration to the coast guard, federal emergency management and the Secret Service.

The latest survey findings echo those from previous studies, including last year’s Partnership for Public Service “best places to work” survey, which ranked DHS 19th out of 19 major agencies – with just 46.8 percent of employees expressing satisfaction. Among the employees least satisfied were those working for Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, Intelligence and Analysis, and the National Protection and Program Directorate.

The morale crisis has led to a serious brain drain in recent years. Johnson took office declaring that bolstering sagging morale and filling vacancies were his top concerns. Last Friday, he and DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas sent out a department-wide email telling workers that they deserved “a workplace that recognizes your efforts, supports your great work, and fulfills your highest aspirations . . . [but] it is clear from feedback since the creation of this Department that many of you do not feel that you have such a workplace.”

With the U.S. leading airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, some experts warn of possible retaliation against the U.S., either by American citizens who have gone overseas to fight with ISIS and then returned home, or other “homegrown” radical jihadists who are planning terror attacks against other Americans.

Related: Merger of ISIS and al-Qaeda Could Cripple the Civilized World

The government over the years has poured massive sums into the operations of the sprawling Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that are responsible for protecting Americans and their food supply, government buildings and national parks from terrorist attacks. One recent estimate says the government spends about $70 billion annually on homeland security operations.  

The Fiscal Times reported last week that some of those programs may be bolstered even more in light of the potential threat from ISIS sympathizers. 

On Sunday, CNN reported that the new FBI-Homeland Security warning to law enforcement officials cites “increased chatter in recent weeks on social media and extremist forums.” The warning was based on information from recent crackdowns on alleged ISIS members and sympathizers in the United Kingdom and Australia.

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