Bush names new DHS CHCO

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President Bush has announced that he plans to appoint Thomas Cairns to be the Homeland Security Department’s chief human capital officer (CHCO).

The top human resources slot at DHS has been open since Marta Brito Pérez resigned effective Jan. 6. Cairns has spent his career in human resources and labor relations in the private sector, including senior vice president of human resources at NBC Universal. He is a principal at Cairns Blaner Group.

The Senate must approve his appointment, and he will also need to go through the security clearance process before he can assume the position.

Until then, Bray Barnes will continue to serve as acting CHCO.

Cairns will step in at a time when DHS is preparing for its first presidential transition and as it continues to push ahead on a new personnel management system — the Human Capital Operational Plan.

The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing April 23 at which committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) aired his concerns about the department’s progress in preparing for the transition. Paul Schneider, DHS’ acting deputy secretary, testified that DHS was preparing for the transition by creating a succession plan, engaging in cross-government collaboration, using best practices and conducting training exercises.

Last month, 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, 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.

“The department would be better served by a career civil servant than by a series of appointees serving as CHCO,” Akaka said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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