The politically-motivated campaign to shrink the size of government “to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” as the infamous right-wing activist Grover Norquist says, has led to staffing shortages in many federal agencies.
Staffing shortages are making it harder on the American people who use these services and the employees who have to shoulder overwhelming workloads. At a congressional hearing on May 1, we learned that understaffing may have more serious consequences when it comes to the Department of Homeland Security.
Testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee, DHS’s former inspector general John Roth said DHS senior leadership was often caught off guard by his office’s findings because they were short-staffed. These findings involved critical issues facing DHS such as cybersecurity, border security, transportation security, acquisition management, and employee morale.
“Simply put, the Secretary’s Office and the Deputy Secretary’s Office are simply too thinly staffed to be able to even be aware of, much less effectively manage, the significant and varied issues that face DHS,” said Roth, who retired in 2017. “In my time as Inspector General, through two administrations, senior leadership was continually caught by surprise by our findings. They simply did not have the staff or the structure to be fully informed to conduct effective oversight.”
That’s just not good enough.
“The Department of Homeland Security must to be fully equipped to carry out its mission of protecting all of us from terrorism and other threats,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “It’s outrageous that senior leadership is not even aware of what’s going on in their department.”
Pervasive senior leadership vacancies
A lack of permanent leadership doesn’t help the situation. At the hearing, Roth, lawmakers, and Comptroller General Gene Dodaro voiced concerns about constant senior leadership vacancies that affect employee morale and make it difficult to address long-standing issues.
Currently, DHS has significant vacancies: Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, Under Secretary for Management, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Administrator of FEMA, and Director of ICE. The Commissioner of CBP and the Administrator of TSA are also serving as Acting Secretary and Acting Deputy Secretary, depriving those agencies of their own leadership.
Several lawmakers blamed it on Trump for intentionally keeping those critical positions vacant.
“This chaos appears to be by design, orchestrated by a President who wants to be able to remove the Department's leadership on a whim,” said Committee Chair Bennie Thompson. “He has said himself: ‘I like Acting[s] because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.’ In other words, the President wants people who have not gone through the confirmation process because they are more beholden to him and more likely to carry out his controversial policies without question.”