Workforce

How legacy IT complicates hiring at DHS

people standing on keyboard (Who is Danny/Shutterstock.com) 

As the Department of Homeland Security looks to staff up and continue its recovery from the effects of the shutdown, a major operating challenge may be its IT systems.

While DHS currently supports about 207,000 civilian employees, its staffing systems have about 360,000 listed positions, because it's easier to simply add a new position in the system rather than fill an old one.

Sid Evans, the assistant director of program analysis and evaluation for manpower and organization in the agency's CFO office, said following a Feb. 27 event hosted by the Association of Government Accountants the problem is due to IT systems limitations.

"It's a systems challenge," he said. "We're trying to get folks to get rid of stale vacancies. Some of these vacancies have been in place for 10 to 12 years, but they get ignored because [the number] is not real, and it's too much trouble to get it out of the system because of how difficult the systems are to use."

Evans said that the dated systems aren't designed for workforce modeling and planning. "They were really designed for people in payroll."

The systems lag behind changing business and workforce modeling processes. That, Evans said, "then drives less-than-optimal behaviors," noting that 55 percent of the budget goes to workforce. "If you don't get that right, you're not necessarily spending taxpayers' dollars wisely."

Evans estimated that at current staffing levels, the 207,000 figure leaves about a 15 percent vacancy rate.

Following the shutdown, Evans said that workforce attrition across DHS was "not really an issue" at this point. Even when it comes to payroll processing, "there are not a whole lot" of employees still with incomplete or incorrect back pay.

Michael Coffman, a program manager at the Transportation Security Administration, said as far as attrition during and following the shutdown goes, "we thought it would be worse."

Based on outreach to some of the busiest airports, while the rate of attrition was up slightly, Coffman said it wasn't significant enough that it could be directly tied the shutdown. He also said TSA was preparing to hire up for the summer, and the agency was looking at doing extra pay and pay adjustments in cities where it's particularly hard to hire.

The immediate challenge facing DHS hiring, Evans said, is to fulfill the increase of 5,000 border patrol agents, made especially difficult because it's hard to quantify just how many are needed and where they would be most effectively stationed.

Evans said that 64 percent of all DHS positions, and 92 percent of "mission-critical" positions, are currently covered by some kind of workforce model. The remaining 8 percent of mission-critical positions, he added, consists "primarily" of border patrol agents.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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