Homeland Security 'moving rapidly' to fill high-level vacancies, chief says

Secretary Michael Chertoff outlines personnel-related actions designed to bind department together as a “unitary organism.”

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged concerns Wednesday about the high turnover rate in the department's senior ranks and said he is trying rapidly to fill the gaps.

Chertoff took over the department two months ago just as a number of senior managers were leaving. For example, DHS does not have an undersecretary to lead the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. The entire senior management team for the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate has departed. The Transportation Security Administration is searching for its fourth director in as many years.

"In some cases, we've had more rapid turnover than in other cases," Chertoff told the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on management of the department.

Chertoff said President Bush recently announced the appointment of Robert Stephan to be assistant secretary for infrastructure protection. Stephan currently serves as Chertoff's special assistant.

More managers may be on their way out. Eduardo Aguirre, director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau, is President Bush's choice to be U.S. ambassador to Spain. And Michael Garcia, director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, has emerged as a likely candidate to become the next U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

"With respect to a number of these other positions, we are moving rapidly and working to find the right person for the job," Chertoff said. He acknowledged the vacancies create a burden, but said they also present an opportunity to bring new energy into the department.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the committee's ranking member, urged Chertoff to work on increasing diversity within the department's workforce.

Chertoff also noted other personnel-related actions he is considering.

"I would like our department to develop an internal structure for career development that would make it, first of all, a very attractive place to work and to recruit, but also build in [opportunities] for advancement and for education and improvement that would ... inspire our workforce to do a good job," he said.

Chertoff added that he wants to start a program to enable employees to take temporary assignments at different agencies within the department.

"One of the things I'm looking forward to doing," he said, "is working with the employees to see if there are ways we can use the career advancement process to bind us together as a unitary organism."