Memo to DHS: Fill vacant leadership posts

One of every four senior leadership positions is vacant at the Homeland Security Department, thus presenting a risk to national security, according to a new report, from the House Homeland Security Committee.

Twenty-four percent of the department's "executive resource" positions were unfilled as of May 1. Those include political appointees as well as senior career employees. The report found 138 vacancies among the 575 total executive resource positions.

Since 2003, when DHS was formed from 21 agencies, "contracting abuses, poor leadership and low employee morale have been endemic," the report states.

Furthermore, a significant percentage of the senior leadership positions are currently occupied by political appointees, presenting a risk to national security during the coming presidential transition of power in January 2009, the report states. The percentage of political appointees at DHS was not identified.

Since presidential appointees typically lose their jobs following a presidential election, a high proportion of such appointees in charge of homeland security could put the nation at risk in the months following the November 2008 elections.

"This identifies an enormous security vulnerability should an attack or disaster occur during the upcoming presidential transition," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, chairman of the homeland security committee, said in a statement.

DHS officials responding to the report noted that the vacancies likely were inflated by the addition of 73 vacant new positions added on March 1. However, the report said little progress had been made in two months on filling those new positions.

The highest rates of vacancies were in the office of the assistant secretary for policy, 48 percent of leadership jobs vacant; office of general counsel, 47 percent vacant; assistant secretary for intelligence, 36 percent vacant; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 34 percent vacant.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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