Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced the bill.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced the bill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

Lawmaker Reintroduces Bill to Boost Morale at Homeland Security

Similar legislation to improve engagement at the troubled department passed the House in 2017.

The chairman of a House committee overseeing the Homeland Security Department reintroduced a bill Thursday to boost the morale of employees at the department that has long lagged behind the rest of government in engagement.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., sponsored the Department of Homeland Security Morale, Recognition, Learning and Engagement Act (H.R. 1433), a bill that would provide a number of avenues to improve morale at the Homeland Security Department. For the last five years, the Homeland Security Department has been ranked at the bottom of large agencies in terms of employee engagement, as measured by the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Despite its place in the rankings, the department has improved its engagement score modestly for each of the last four years, most recently gaining 1.1 points according to the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.

Atop the laundry list of proposals are efforts to improve the department’s professional development programs. The bill would give the DHS chief human capital officer the authority to create a career path framework and “create opportunities for leader development,” and it would direct that officer to maintain a catalog of professional development opportunities.

Additionally, the legislation would establish an employee engagement steering committee, made up of department officials and representatives from federal employee unions, to develop ways to improve employee engagement. And it would authorize the Homeland Security secretary to set up an annual non-monetary reward program for top employees.

The department was one of the organizations impacted by the 35-day partial government shutdown that began late last year. As a result, all of its roughly 230,000 employees were forced either to stay home or work without pay until Congress and President Trump reached an agreement to fund federal agencies.

“It’s unfortunate that the DHS workforce suffers from some of the lowest morale in the federal government,” Thompson said in a statement. “Under the Trump administration, it’s especially important that we do all we can to support and empower the employees of DHS. The men and women at DHS perform critical national security missions every day—ensuring their high morale is key to ensuring our country’s safety.”

In 2017, the House passed similar legislation, also introduced by Thompson, by voice vote. But the bill stalled in the Senate, where it never emerged from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.