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DHS Chief Promises Improvements After Show Blasts ‘Dysfunctional’ Department

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson says department management is improving. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson says department management is improving. Homeland Security Department file photo

The Homeland Security Department is a bloated bureaucracy, too large and disparate to effectively manage as one entity.

Such was the takeaway from a report on 60 Minutes, the famed news magazine program on CBS. The report focused on a series of interviews with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, who defended the department and the progress it has made to better coordinate its 240,000-person workforce and its array of components.

“Johnson’s department has never been more central to the War on Terror,” 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl said. “But it has come under almost constant criticism for, over the years, weak management and low morale.”

She added Johnson faces a “management nightmare,” as DHS agencies and sub-agencies have no clear common functionality binding them together.

“This department is a disparate amalgam of things that don't fit together very well,” said Clark Ervin, the former DHS inspector general. “Making the department work, making it more effective and efficient, economical, is a security issue. To the extent the department isn't optimally performing, that is a security deficiency.”

The report spent little time explaining how DHS came together in its current form. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, the George W. Bush administration and lawmakers determined domestic security efforts were spread too far apart in the sprawling federal bureaucracy, and bringing them together would improve coordination of protection efforts. No matter the origins, 60 Minutes postulated DHS’ structure was unsustainable.

Stahl said Johnson’s challenge “is to fix a dysfunctional agency at the same time he's dealing with a terrorist threat that's becoming ever more complex and hard to detect.” Johnson said the department is working to eliminate excess fat.

“Are we large?” Johnson asked. “Yes, we are very large. Do we have some inefficiencies that need to be eliminated? Absolutely. And I believe we're moving in the right direction in that regard.”

Johnson conceded he would not be able to fix all that ails DHS when his tenure expires in 2017, but said the department’s bad rap is due in part because when it comes to homeland security, “no news is good news.”

He added: “You don’t get a lot of thank yous for that.” 

Eric Katz writes about federal agency operations and management. His deep coverage of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Postal Service has earned him frequent guest spots on national radio and television news programs. Eric joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 and previously worked for The Financial Times. He is a graduate of The George Washington University.

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