Jeff Gentner/AP

Low morale continues to plague Homeland Security

DHS must do a better job figuring out why employees are unhappy, GAO says.

Employees at the Homeland Security Department are less satisfied with their jobs on average than other federal workers, and DHS must do a better job figuring out why, according to a new report.

Morale varies among DHS employees, depending on where they work, with job satisfaction and employee engagement particularly low at the Transportation Security Administration and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency compared to other federal workers, the Government Accountability Office pointed out in a new report based on data from the 2011 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

While DHS has tried to determine the reasons behind low morale within certain agencies, GAO said the department should put in place more specific metrics to home in on the root causes of dissatisfaction among different sections of the workforce. “GAO found that despite having broad performance metrics in place to track and assess DHS employee morale on an agencywide level, DHS does not have specific metrics within the action plans that are consistently clear and measurable,” the GAO report concluded. GAO looked at four agencies within the department: the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, ICE and TSA.

Dissatisfaction over pay and the fairness of performance evaluations are affecting the morale of TSA employees, according to GAO’s analysis of the latest Federal Employee Viewpoint, while ICE employees did not think pay raises were linked to job performance. Employees at some DHS agencies, however, are pretty happy: job satisfaction at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Coast Guard, CPB and the Secret Service was higher than the average for the rest of the government, according to the 2011 survey.

DHS is the government’s third-largest department, with more than 200,000 employees.

Low morale has been a problem for DHS since its creation in 2003, although job satisfaction has improved since 2006, according to GAO. The department has used focus groups and put in place an employee exit survey in addition to creating an employee engagement committee at the leadership level to suss out problems. Poor training, staff turnover and negative publicity have been cited as reasons for employee dissatisfaction; a House Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing on the topic earlier this year. TSA announced in October that it would seek to fire 25 employees at Newark Liberty Airport and suspend 19 others for improperly screening checked luggage.

“One explanation for lower morale at DHS is that its employees could be members of demographic groups that typically have lower morale across all agencies,” GAO’s report said. “If this is true, the cause of morale problems and their solutions might focus less on factors that are unique to DHS and more on approaches that apply to any agency with a similar workforce.”

GAO’s analysis of the 2011 survey also indicated that job satisfaction among the DHS workforce varied, depending on employee pay and length of service. Higher paid employees, including those in the Senior Executive Service, tended to be happier with their jobs than other groups. Employees with less than a year of service at the department reported the highest job satisfaction score.

DHS agreed with GAO’s findings.

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