Clueless in the Capital: DHS and ICE Morale Continue to Plunge

By Dan Cadman on March 7, 2014

In March 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, accompanied by testimony, on the state of morale across the government. The verdict: "Over time, federal surveys have consistently found that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees are less satisfied with their jobs than the government-wide average." It's only gotten worse since then.

GAO stated in the March 2012 report that employee morale at DHS is important because it is a huge department (third largest in the federal government) and thus reflects a significant portion of the federal workforce.

GAO reported that DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau reflected job satisfaction and morale scores at the bottom of the DHS scale — "in other words, the worst of the worst" as noted in a CIS blog published at the time.

That blog also observed that the testimony of GAO officials at the time subtly suggested that DHS leaders' response to the survey was not an attempt to improve morale by getting at root causes, but rather geared toward improving responses to the survey.

The testimony in March was followed by a formal GAO audit report in September 2012 that, if anything, even further underlined the poor state of morale in many segments of the sprawling DHS bureaucracy.

TSA screeners, like ICE employees rated at the bottom of the bottom:

Survey respondents representing the approximately 55,000 employees at TSA and approximately 20,000 employees at ICE were on average 11.6 and 7.9 percentage points less satisfied than the rest of the government, respectively.

This past December, GAO issued a follow-up report on DHS morale, and it should be no surprise to those who follow such matters to find that, as with so many things, DHS and its component leaders at ICE have made no headway at all. Believe it or not, they have lost ground. According to Figure 1 on page 9 of the report, the DHS-wide satisfaction index has dropped four points, to 57, since 2012.

Table 1 on page 10 of the report shows us that ICE employees rated even lower: Their satisfaction index was 54, a full 10 points less than the government-wide satisfaction index. Scanning across that table, one also sees that the "employee engagement index" (a measure of how involved employees feel in their work) is correspondingly low. This is to be expected: When you are greatly dissatisfied, it is almost impossible to fully engage in your work mentally or emotionally.

The implications of this most recent survey are sobering. The primary mission of every component within DHS is to preserve public safety and homeland security throughout the United States. Left to fester, poor morale could result in compromised security.

Dare I say it: DHS leaders have failed to triage the plunging morale because they have no interest in getting to the root of the problem, which is them.

Consider the example of ICE. In pursuit of a broad-based amnesty they have been unable to achieve legislatively, DHS leaders have politicized the agency through a series of constitutionally dubious executive actions and policies that have eviscerated its agents' ability to enforce immigration law, while at the same time manipulating statistics to leave the public with a vastly different impression.

The policies have so egregiously and adversely affected their ability to enforce the laws, in fact, that the agents' union felt obliged to file suit against the department in an attempt to restore integrity to their important mission, only to have that suit dismissed when the court ultimately ruled it had no standing to review the matter, even though the presiding judge stated in his order of dismissal that "Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Department of Homeland Security has implemented a program contrary to congressional mandate."

Why, then, would anyone expect their morale to soar?