Survey results set off culture alarm at Homeland Security Department

Employees aren’t happy, but no one agrees about why they’re dissatisfied or about what DHS could do to improve their morale

Report of the Homeland Security Culture Task Force [.pdf]

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Homeland Security Department employees aren’t happy, but no one agrees about why they’re dissatisfied or about what DHS could do to improve their morale.

When the results of the Office of Personnel Management’s 2006 Human Capital Survey showed DHS ranked nearly dead last in employee satisfaction and trust of managers, senior agency officials went public with their concern.

“These results deliver a clear and jolting message from managers and line employees alike,” said Michael Jackson, DHS’ chief operating officer, about the survey.

Jackson responded forcefully to the survey results, even though they echoed the department’s similarly low ranking in OPM’s 2004 survey. This month DHS also acknowledged criticism in the Homeland Security Advisory Committee’s Culture Task Force Report, published within weeks of the release of OPM’s survey results.

The committee formed the Culture Task Force in early 2006 to study how DHS could function better as a department.

The task force’s report, released at the end of January, recommended that DHS reinvent itself as a mission-based organization, establish expectations and measure the performance of its component agencies.

“Stop talking about ‘Team DHS’ and start talking about ‘Team Homeland Security,’” said Jeff Gaynor, a former co-director of the task force who left that position in October 2006.

Gaynor said DHS doesn’t need to establish a uniform or unified culture. Instead, it must create an environment in which all 22 DHS agencies are focused on the mission of providing national security.

The task force also recommended that DHS create the position of deputy secretary of operations, a steely-eyed individual primarily focused on DHS’ mission, Gaynor said. “The mission is homeland security. It’s not about this little entity called the department.”

The combination of the Culture Task Force’s findings and the 2006 survey results persuaded DHS to make employee morale a public issue, but the focus on creating a unified culture within DHS began several months ago, said Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman.

Secretary Michael Chertoff asked Paul Schneider, undersecretary for management, to form a working group to study how to create that culture. The group is holding meetings with employees.

“We have all those different cultures, all those different attitudes,” Orluskie said. Union officials representing DHS employees said the departmental mission has always been clear to employees. National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley criticized DHS’ decision to hold employee meetings to discuss culture, describing them as a one-way conversation.

Gaynor said that cultural change can occur while agencies are focused on the mission of DHS. Creating a culture “isn’t something you stop and do,” he said.

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