Marks for supervisors within the watchdog office improved.

Marks for supervisors within the watchdog office improved. Twenty47studio / Getty Images

Employees Within the Now-Embattled Homeland Security Watchdog Office Gave Their Supervisors High Marks on a Job Satisfaction Survey

The office had improved scores on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in leadership, innovation and employee recognition.

Employees within the Homeland Security Department inspector general office that is now caught up in a controversy over alleged mishandling of the probe into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol gave their supervisors relatively high marks on the most recent governmentwide job satisfaction survey, and the office improved on a good government group’s latest annual Best Places to Work rankings. 

The Homeland Security IG office ranked 253 out of 432 subcomponent agencies on the 2021 “Best Places to Work in The Federal Government” rankings released July 13 by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, along with the Boston Consulting Group. It received an overall 69.7 out of 100 on “engagement and satisfaction,” up from 62.8 in 2020 and more than the governmentwide score of 64.5. (Scores from 2021 can only be compared to 2020 due to methodological changes made that year). 

“Looking at the scores from 2021 it really does speak to me of the ability of the immediate supervisors—those are people who are not the most senior leaders, not the ones who are guiding overall policy or overall decisions, but the ones who are really taking care of the employees—their ability to make employees feel safe, as though their needs are being met and as though no matter what is going on in the background things are going to work out and be okay,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman, vice president for research, evaluation and modernizing government at the Partnership. “And that is an incredibly important trait for a supervisor to have.” 

Schulman told Government Executive she was basing that observation solely on a reading of the data from the IG office. The Partnership’s rankings are derived primarily from the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that the Office of Personnel Management administers annually. The 2021 survey reflected the transition from the Trump to Biden administrations. 

The Partnership’s Schulman underscored the importance of supervisors during the COVID-19 pandemic and said supervisors across the federal government have helped their offices do “really, really well, and [have recognized] that they could still do their mission during this incredibly challenging time period.” 

In particular, in the “effective leadership: supervisors” category, the Homeland Security IG office received an 83.7 in the latest survey, up from 79.5 in 2020. More scores are outlined the chart below:

2020 Score 2021 Score Sub-Agency Median 2021
Employee skills-mission match 73.3 76.9 76.9
Teamwork 72.9 76.9 76.6
Innovation 63 70.3 71.4
Work-life balance 82.8 82.8 76.1
Recognition 64.2 71.2 68.6

Meanwhile, feelings on supervisors were “different than how that office sees their senior leaders and whether they feel empowered by leaders,” as “those were much lower by comparison” Schulman said. 

The office’s score on “effective leadership: senior leaders”–– which the Partnership defines as “the immediate leadership team responsible for directing the policies and priorities of the department/agency” and could be a “political or career appointment and typically is a member of the Senior Executive Service or equivalent”––was 59.2, up from 48.7. Schulman noted that “supervisors having higher scores than senior leaders is consistent across most federal agencies,” as supervisors are the people employees interact with most. 

There was a jump in senior leaders too, though, and Schulman said while there are a plethora of potential reasons for the increase in this category, important context to remember is the transition of presidential administrations and in late 2020 the Homeland Security Department at-large had a variety of senior leaders, such as the secretary and deputy, in acting roles. 

“No matter how experienced or talented acting officials are, they create challenges for agency effectiveness, planning and relationships,” she said. “Whereas in late 2021, DHS had confirmed officials in many senior leadership roles.” 

As for the overall “effective leadership” category, the office scored a 70.9 and due to a slight change in methodology for this category, that can’t be directly compared to the office’s score of 57.8 from 2020, but “it is still very fair to notice that it did have an improvement,” Schulman said.

New categories for 2021 were “performance: work unit” (90.8); “performance: agency” (79.2); and “COVID: return to the office” (58.4). The only area in which the office had a decrease in scores was on “pay,” which went from 79.2 to 73.8. 

Schulman said the results for the IG office are statistically significant and noted that the Partnership only puts individual agency profiles on its website if they are. 

DHS IG Joseph Cuffari praised his workforce for their Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and Partnership scores in a congressional bulletin sent out on July 28 and made public on the IG’s website. “I am proud of our DHS OIG workforce and their collaborative efforts to achieve our mission,” he wrote. “Thank you for your interest in our work as we continue to uphold the highest standards of quality and integrity—our mission is more critical than ever.” 

He also noted that the office has made “sustained progress” to implement 21 recommendations the Government Accountability Office issued in June 2021 in a report about vast management and operational problems at the office from at least fiscal 2015 and 2020

“At this point in time we have submitted eight recommendations to GAO for closure and so far they have closed one,” Cuffari wrote. “GAO has indicated they plan to keep some recommendations open to monitor long-term implementation.” The closed recommendation was on guidance to ensure the office’s work adheres to federal IG standards. 

The DHS IG office did not respond with additional comment on the Partnership’s results. 

OPM administered the viewpoint survey over a five-week period in November and December 2021, over a year after the IG engaged a law firm to review the conduct of three, now-departed senior employees who were reportedly found to have undermined the IG and about seven months after the Project on Government Oversight alleged in a report that Cuffari quashed probes related to the Trump administration. 

The survey was also administered after the office underwent an organizational review, offices of innovation and integrity were created and an “annual performance plan for fiscal 2022 was established,  “which includes specific strategies and performance indicators to drive change and measure success,” Cuffari outlined the strategies in his prepared remarks for a budget hearing in April. 

But the survey came before the onslaught of negative reporting on the IG starting in the spring of 2022 after the Project on Government Oversight alleged the office delayed and suppressed reports about sexual assault and domestic violence and continuing this summer regarding alleged mishandling of investigations into Jan. 6. The office is reportedly being investigated by an IG council, and during a briefing on Aug. 5, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the office’s role in Jan. 6 probes is “being investigated.” The office has pushed back on virtually all of the allegations.