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fEB. 27, 2015

from the 'we've-tried-nothing-and-we're-all-out-of-ideas!' dept

Guess which national agency's feelings hurt the most?

    The 2014 Best Places To Work in the Federal Government Survey, published by Stier’s group, ranked DHS dead last among large agencies.


    Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit. Others have described in interviews how a stifling bureaucracy and relentless congressional criticism makes DHS an exhausting, even infuriating, place to work.

Beyond the problems listed here, there are a great many reasons why it might suck to work for the DHS. To begin with, the agency is actually a Frankensteinian monstrosity consisting of 22 agencies, all with their own ideas on how to run things and nearly all of them with their own sets of problems.

The DHS is in the (relatively) newly-minted business of securing the homeland against all comers -- mostly terrorists of the foreign and domestic varieties. Whether it's done out of paranoia or just the overwhelming need to look busy every time the national budget nears a vote, the DHS has gone overboard in its assessments of potential threats. The shorter of the two lists it has compiled by this point would be titled "Not Terrorists." Over the years, the DHS has conjectured that terrorists are hiding in food trucks, using hotel side entrances, exercising their First Amendment rights, possibly years away from graduating high school… etc.

The DHS also presides over the TSA, a security agency in name only that seems mostly interested in patting down mastectomy patients, running their brusquely officious hands over pre-teens, dumping breast milk and other "explosives precursors" into nearby garbage cans and feeling completely threatened by words printed in foreign languages.

It also keeps an eye on the CBP, which can't seem to stop shooting unarmed people, follow its own guidelines on vehicle searches, and operates a fleet of shiny, expensive and nearly useless drones.


Then there's ICE (with its own morale problems), the IP-focused Keystone Kops whose antics -- including yanking websites away from owners without a word of explanation and returning them years later without an apology, raiding lingerie shops for dangerously unlicensed panties, and struggling to come up with excuses for denying FOIA fee waiver requests -- are only outpaced by the imaginary rights vendettas of the City of London police.



That would be enough to depress anyone, especially the good employees who started out with ideals and enthusiasm but are now forced to answer question after question after question about why working for the nation's largest group of unhinged conspiracy theorists is a bit of a downer. The DHS has dumped a lot of money into divining the sources of its employees' unhappiness. But it seems more interested in spending money than fixing the problems.

The first study cost about $1 million. When it was finished, it was put in a drawer. The next one cost less but duplicated the first. It also ended up in a drawer.



So last year, still stumped about why the employees charged with safeguarding Americans are so unhappy, the department commissioned two more studies.

Yes, if anything's going to fix morale, it's going to be periodic questioning of employees who know their last several answers went completely ignored. Will the latest studies be titled "NO REALLY GUYS THIS TIME WE'RE LISTENING?"



To hear people like new DHS head Jeh Johnson tell it, the agency has never been more interested in improving morale.

Johnson and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have “personally committed themselves to improving the morale and workforce satisfaction across the Department of Homeland Security,” said Ginette Magana, a DHS spokeswoman. “They are directly engaging with employees, listening to their concerns, working diligently to improve employee recognition and training, and are focused on strengthening the skills and abilities of every employee. She said the studies “comprise a first step in a comprehensive process dedicated to tangible results.”
Yeah, but what about all the other "first steps" currently tucked away in drawers, presumably still in mint condition? How many "first steps" and empty promises are DHS employees expected to suffer through before they finally wander away from the metaphoric disinterested, lying spouse they call an employer? "No, really. This time will be different, honey. I SWEAR."



As it stands now, DHS employees pretty much have to stick guns in their mouths before someone will start paying attention to their morale issues.

Three years ago, officials in the department’s office of health affairs, which provides expertise on national security medical issues, began to wonder about the health of one of their own programs. In response to low scores on the viewpoint survey, officials had set up a program, DHSTogether, aimed at making DHS “one of the best places to work in the Federal government.”
The DHS spent over a million dollars on yet another study to find out why this study-prompted "Togetherness" wasn't working. The National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine arrived at this alarming conclusion.
The report, released in September 2013, concluded that DHSTogether had been starved of money and support from DHS leaders and devolved into little more than an ineffective suicide prevention program.

The DHS apparently didn't feel like talking anyone down, so it buried the report on the report as well.


And the vicious cycle of studies will continue. On top of the two recently-commissioned studies, the agency plans to add a "follow-up" survey to its annual "viewpoint survey," and plans to follow up government contractor ICF's morale study with yet another study once that one's completed.


Clearly, bureaucracy -- especially the combined bureaucracy of 22 agencies forced by terrorists knee-jerk lawmaking to live together under one superagency's roof -- generates more questions than answers. And clearly, in the DHS's case, the questions are the only part that matters.