Senators: DHS needs flexibility in choosing personnel chief

The Senate’s two federal workforce leaders say the Homeland Security Department needs a depoliticized chief human capital officer (CHCO) to see the department through the transition to a new presidential administration next year.

Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee, and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), the panel's ranking member, have introduced legislation that would give the DHS secretary the authority to appoint a career executive to the CHCO position. Under current law, the president must appoint the department’s CHCO.

“As DHS prepares for its first transition between administrations, it is imperative that an able and capable workforce remains in place to continue the department’s important mission,” Voinovich said in a press release. “I believe a career-appointed CHCO is central to a smooth transition.”

However, the bill (S. 2816) stops short of mandating a career CHCO at the department, pointing out that other agencies have the ability to choose the candidate — a political or civilian employee — that “best fits into the framework of the agency and its human capital strategy,” Akaka said. “But DHS, by statute, does not have this flexibility. The work of a CHCO is critical to the support of effective government management and strategic workforce planning.”

Given DHS’ critical mission and the fact that the department remains on the Government Accountability Office’s high-risk list, it is important to give DHS the same flexibility as other agencies in designating its CHCO, he added.

Of the 23 agency representatives on the CHCO Council, nearly half — 11 — are career executives.

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