Jeff Gentner/AP

Senior-level vacancies persist at Homeland Security

Reorganizations, political transitions and retirements are among the factors that affected openings, officials tell watchdog.

During the past five years, the vacancy rate for Senior Executive Service positions often has been higher at the Homeland Security Department than at other agencies, the Government Accountability Office found in a new report.

According to the report, released last week, retaining senior executives has been an issue for the department since its creation.

DHS had statistically significant higher rates of senior-level vacancies in fiscal 2006, 2007 and 2010, with a peak of 25 percent of SES jobs empty in fiscal 2006. The rates of vacancies were not statistically different from other federal agencies in 2008 and 2009, however.

The Office of Personnel Management allocated 90 new SES positions to Homeland Security in October 2009, causing the vacancy rate to fluctuate between 8.4 percent and 20.7 percent during fiscal 2010. While the agency closed fiscal 2010 with 17 percent of senior positions unfilled, other agencies had an average vacancy rate of 9 percent. By end of fiscal 2011, DHS’ senior executive openings had decreased to about 10 percent.

GAO found that within the department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration had the highest SES vacancy rates, at 20 percent and 19.5 percent, respectively, in fiscal 2011.

DHS officials told the watchdog that, in addition to influxes of additional senior-level positions, intradepartmental reorganizations and political transitions often affected vacancy rates.

Homeland Security officials found many jobs also were left unfilled due to retirements and resignations. In January 2010, DHS launched a national exit survey, which GAO said has proved useful in identifying why senior leaders choose to separate from the department. Most senior executives surveyed cited three main reasons for leaving:

  • Supervisor/management
  • Personal or family-related reasons
  • Salary/pay

While GAO did not provide specific recommendations, DHS responded to the report.

“The department is strongly committed to filling senior leadership vacancies in an expeditious and responsible manner,” wrote Jim Crumpacker director of the Departmental GAO-OIG Liaison Office. “DHS is pleased to note GAO’s positive recognitions of actions it’s taken to implement programs addressing senior leadership and recruitment.”

Crumpacker noted Homeland Security adopted the Office of Personnel Management’s resume-only recruitment and hiring process, which helped the department reduce its vacancy rates and fill 90 newly allocated SES positions.

“The lessons learned from using this process have been invaluable and DHS human capital personnel are sharing them across the federal government with others,” he said. “More specifically, our personnel are serving as mentors and coaches helping others determine how best to implement the resume-only recruitment and hiring process at their departments.”