DHS urged to shift bonus money from execs to employees

The Homeland Security Department must find a way to give employees better recognition for their contributions and achievements, according to Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee. In a 2007 report card, the panel's majority staff said delaying monetary awards and bonuses for upper-level managers and Senior Executive Service employees at the department would allow such awards to be reserved for front-line and nonsupervisory employees. This would demonstrate that everyone's work is appreciated and valued, the report said.

"Given the department's congressionally authorized flexibility in the personnel area, it has the opportunity to implement a novel approach to recognize and award front-line and other nonsupervisory employees," the assessment stated.

According to DHS spokesman Russ Knocke, the department already has sufficient monetary award and bonus programs available for front line workers. "I'm unclear what [the committee] is driving at there," he said. "We already have that."

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, argued that history shows the merger of many agencies into one large department can demoralize employees. "To behave as though the executives and managers can lead cheers and increase everyone's morale is just very short-sighted, and all it's going to do is decrease their morale as well," she said.

The report card pointed to a number of challenges DHS faces, including a shortage of contracting and technical management personnel for key acquisition programs and the "lack of a financial management system that can give timely, critical insight into all levels of department expenditures."

Three of 17 categories graded received "incomplete" marks: border security, critical infrastructure, and management and organization. Employee morale was the only area to receive an "F."

The mark was in line with the results of the Office of Personnel Management's 2006 federal workforce survey, in which DHS ranked last or almost last in the categories of job satisfaction, leadership and workplace performance.

"The department's ability to attract and retain a talented and professional workforce will be seriously impeded if it continues to allow circumstances that lead to low employee morale," the report card stated.

The report particularly criticized the agency's attempt to create a new personnel system, formerly known as MaxHR but now called the Human Capital Operational Plan. An appeals court last summer upheld a decision striking down the labor relations portions of MaxHR, ruling that the system effectively eliminated the collective bargaining rights of employees.

Despite the court's ruling, the department has moved ahead with HCOP, which "blends MaxHR components with other problematic standards for measuring employee success," the report stated.

The committee recommended that in moving forward with the new personnel system, the department retain the use of career ladders, education and training opportunities that are tied to career advancement, flexible work schedules, job sharing and other family-friendly practices. DHS also must ensure that hiring and promotions are not only conducted in an appropriate manner, but are perceived by employees as fair, the report said.

Knocke said DHS officials are "deeply committed to continuing to work with our employees and find ways to better support them. Our greatest strength is our employees, and they are completely focused on the mission and not distracted by these sorts of unhelpful reports."

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