Task force recommends measures to improve DHS culture

Union criticizes report for failing to capture the views of employees who carry out the department’s mission.

Homeland Security Department officials should stop using the phrase "human capital," among other steps, to achieve a "mission-focused culture" within DHS and its state, tribal, local and private sector partners, according to a recent task force report.

The Culture Task Force, created in 2006 by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, outlined six recommendations for "structural modifications designed to facilitate the advancement and enhancement of a departmental culture."

The task force's report came just one week before the Office of Personnel Management released the agency-specific results of its Federal Human Capital Survey to gauge employees' perceptions of their jobs and views on management challenges.

The results of that survey affirmed a prediction made by William Webster, chairman of the advisory council, in a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Though the department is improving some areas, "We have no reason to believe the 2006 OPM [survey] will show major improvements from previous survey results," Webster wrote.

Indeed, DHS scored last or almost last in the survey categories of job satisfaction, leadership, talent management and workplace performance.

The task force first recommended that officials crystallize the role and mission of DHS headquarters, so that DHS component organizations could in turn focus on their roles.

"Like most new organizations that result from an organizational consolidation, one of the initial and key organizational challenges is to define the role and accountability of the headquarters organization … while retaining the strong operational focus of the component organizations," the report stated.

The task force said DHS could empower its workforce by dropping the phrase "human capital" and replacing it with "employees" or "members" of DHS.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley criticized that recommendation. "This is exactly the sort of empty gesture that disappoints and angers employees and does nothing to eliminate real workplace issues and give voice to their concerns," Kelley said.

The task force also recommended that the department establish a common management agenda and adopt a leadership and training model to help officials "focus collaboratively on key leadership expectations and objectives." The report advised that the department create a proposed set of expectations of involvement, inspiration, innovation and service to frame the management model.

"The [task force] recognizes that Homeland Security is about security of the homeland -- not about the organizational entity called the [Homeland Security Department]," the report stated. The panel recommended that the department move away from its historic tendency to create federal plans that often are not executable within states or the private sector.

The DHS secretary should direct those responsible for establishing policy requirements to work closely with DHS component organizations, which in turn would coordinate those policies with state and local governments and the private sector, the report said.

Finally, the task force recommended that the department create a deputy secretary of operations to implement and oversee the recommendations of the task force. The DHS secretary also should appoint a senior career or general schedule employee to help develop the secretary's strategic goals for creating a "diverse but mission-focused Homeland Security culture," the report stated.

NTEU's Kelley said the report was invalid because the task force did not seek the views of the employees charged with carrying out the mission of the department.

"There is no one more familiar with the difficulties DHS is experiencing in building a single culture with the department than its own employees and these same employees are the ones who can point out the steps DHS ought to be taking to improve that situation," Kelley said.

The task force concluded that the department's culture ultimately will be defined by its employees and their view of management. "In the end, 'culture' is about people, relationships and inspirations, and how the people of the department view its leadership, the organization itself and its purposes, and the importance of one's individual role within the department," the report stated.