Trump Cabinet Secretary Tells Lawmakers to ‘Shut Up’ and Support Front-Line Feds

DHS Secretary John Kelly speaks at The George Washington University. DHS Secretary John Kelly speaks at The George Washington University. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A key member of President Trump’s Cabinet came to the defense of front-line federal employees Tuesday, telling members of Congress and the public to stop unfairly denigrating his workers for simply doing their jobs.

Homeland Security Department employees have been “political pawns” in recent years, Secretary John Kelly said in a speech titled “Home and Away” and delivered at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He cited undue criticism of the DHS workforce from external voices as the cause of the department’s perennial low ratings in morale and job satisfaction scores. He also redirected a criticism that has often been lobbed at the Trump administration, namely his employees being forced to “do more with less and less and less.”

In fact, Trump himself said in February federal agencies “must do a lot more with less.”

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“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Kelly said. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

Low morale at the department, he said, was actually quite predictable.

“When you discourage, disable, unjustly criticize and default to believing the self-serving accusations of a wrongdoer rather than the DHS police official at the point of the action, and focus disrespect on an individual for doing his or her job,” he said, “what else do you expect?”

Kelly decried the blame DHS has received for its immigration enforcement policies, saying lawmakers at the federal, state and local level, as well as advocacy groups, listen to a “partial or inaccurate media report” as a basis to launch criticisms. He also defended the work of components such as the Transportation Security Administration, saying, “While you’re binge-watching Mad Men on Netflix, TSA is stopping an actual madman with a loaded gun from boarding a flight to Disney World.”

He said there was proof of TSA's success, adding, "We haven’t had an airliner crash into a skyscraper in New York in quite a while."

He added most Americans never even realize they are being protected daily by “such dedicated and well-trained public servants,” and said DHS critics should stop seeing the worst in his workforce and instead assume “that the men and women of DHS are carrying out their assigned mission in accordance with the law.”

Going forward, Kelly said, DHS will “never apologize.”

While there will not be updated data on DHS’ workforce morale until the Office of Personnel Management releases the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey later this year, Kelly suggested the mood has already improved. In congressional testimony earlier this month, the secretary briskly responded to a question on what had changed to make things better by saying, “My leadership.” On Tuesday, he humbly rejected taking credit, saying the alleged improvement was “not because of me” and “not because of Kelly.”

“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,” he explained. Kelly previously told a Senate committee his department will “come up with better pay systems, better benefits” for employees.

DHS, like all agencies, is currently under the gun to come up with by June 30 preliminary plans to restructure itself, including by trimming the size of its workforce. While the Office of Management and Budget has maintained its reorganization and workforce reduction guidance applies to all agencies, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney has said some agencies might ultimately come out with increases. Trump has by executive order required DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Projection to add a cumulative 15,500 employees to their ranks. The president has also proposed boosting funding for DHS by 7 percent this year and fiscal 2018. 

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