DHS faces human capital challenges

The Homeland Security Department’s acting deputy secretary told a Senate committee May 14 that the department's highest human resources office should be held by a career official, not a political appointee, as is now the case.

“The fact that by law it’s a political appointee means that, for the most part, that person will leave on January 20,” Paul Schneider told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as lawmakers considered his nomination to be deputy secretary.

“Having a career civil servant in that job — especially…at this point in time — somebody that could carry over to the next administration would be absolutely essential — I think — to improve national operations [in the] department,” he added.

President Bush has appointed Thomas Cairns, a private-sector human resources executive, to be DHS' new chief human capital officer (CHCO), a position that had been vacant since January. Cairns would be responsible for shepherding the department through its first presidential transition and working to further implement DHS’ new personnel management system — the Human Capital Operational Plan. However, as a political appointee, Cairns would leave his post in January.

Under current law, the president must appoint the department’s CHCO, but the position does not require Senate approval. At the hearing, Schneider thanked Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the committee’s Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee, for co-sponsoring legislation last month that would give the DHS secretary  authority to appoint a career executive as CHCO.

Schneider said DHS is working to expand its workforce significantly and explained how difficult it was to recruit a new chief human capital officer.

“The fact of the matter is that one of the biggest challenges we have in this department is human capital,” he added.

Schneider said it was difficult to recruit the best talent without state-of-the-art facilities, repeating DHS officials’ frequent call for Congress to fund a new, consolidated facility.

“Our facilities are absolutely terrible. They are bursting at the seams,” he said. “We have a very difficult time competing with the other intelligence agencies…. Our facilities are not conducive to good work and good morale. Just go to the CIA, go into the cafeteria, take a look at the beautiful campus-like facility.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee's chairman, said he hoped the Senate would approve Schneider’s nomination before Congress recesses  for Memorial Day.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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