Hastings’ departure renews concerns about morale, working conditions at the department.
Scott Hastings’ resignation last week as chief information officer of the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program again raised questions about working conditions and morale at the four-year-old department.
Hastings is the latest high-level official to leave DHS. His announcement follows the recent departures of his boss, Jim Williams, US-VISIT’s director; Lee Holcomb, DHS’ chief technology officer; and Maureen Cooney, the department’s acting chief privacy officer.
Some security experts, former employees and others say they are concerned about a possible brain drain and its effects on the organization’s future.
Dave Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said Hastings’ departure “is a reminder that too many key positions at DHS are vacant or are currently filled on an acting basis.” Marin said if DHS and its agencies are to succeed, they need trained and experienced leaders.
DHS senior spokesman Larry Orluskie said many of the people who have recently left were part of the first generation of leaders brought in to create the new department. In any agency, he said, “people come and people go.”
Clark Kent Ervin, a former DHS inspector general, agreed that some degree of turnover is expected in any presidential administration, especially one nearing the end of a term. But he added that the degree of turnover at DHS continues to be exceptionally high. “The reasons are clear,” he said, including “a well-deserved reputation for dysfunction, an inadequate budget, incompetent and unaccountable leadership, and low morale.”
Orluskie, however, said DHS’ turnover is not out of the ordinary for a department with a high-stress mission. “Granted, this is a difficult organization to work for,” he added. “But the people who are here are here because they want to help that mission.”
Only three top-level positions are held by people in an acting capacity, he said: the undersecretary for management, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs and the assistant secretary for public affairs.
Recent additions include Adm. Jay Cohen as undersecretary for science and technology, David Norquist as chief financial officer and Marta Perez as the chief human capital officer.
Hastings, who will leave DHS within the next two months, hinted that health problems triggered his departure. “I’ve had a few things happen to me in the last few months that tell me I’m perhaps under more stress than I need at the moment.” He declined to go into detail.
Hastings, like other DHS alumni, said he probably will look for a job in industry.
James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said DHS officials are a hot item in the private sector. “Homeland security is so new, and industry and lobbyists are so desperate to learn how this [department] works,” he said. “These guys are very marketable.”
Some experts, including Carafano, blame the staffing situation at DHS on burnout. The agency’s senior employees work many hours a day on critical issues that could mean life or death for thousands of people.
Another factor contributing to burnout, he said, is the departmentwide reorganization under Secretary Michael Chertoff that left some people feeling their jobs were no longer as important as they had been.
Senior-level departures happen regularly in government, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council. “Where it gets problematic and troublesome is when it happens in an agency with such a time-sensitive mission.”
Soloway said he expects more turnover at DHS next year and throughout 2008, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election. “That’s a normal cycle in government,” he said.
Jim Flyzik, president of the Flyzik Group consulting firm and a former adviser to the White House Office of Homeland Security, said Hastings’ departure may not affect US-VISIT because others at DHS can manage the program. But the resignation is bound to have an effect on the agency. “Anytime you lose someone of his stature,” he said, “it’s going to have an impact on leadership.”
Brian Robinson contributed to this story.
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