Morale at Homeland Security Still Shaky After Five Years

Friday, April 18, 2008; D04

Most employees at the Department of Homeland Security like their work, believe it is important and cooperate with others to get the job done. That, no doubt, is a great comfort to the department's senior leaders.

But the leadership can take no pleasure in findings that show roughly half of employees are troubled by the department's pay and promotion practices.

These attitudes were captured in a new employee survey at Homeland Security, the results of which will be released to the department's workforce. In the survey, nearly 55 percent of respondents said they did not agree that pay raises depend on job performance, 45 percent did not think promotions are based on merit, and 42 percent did not believe creativity and innovation are rewarded.

To a large degree, these workforce views have not changed from five years ago, when the department began operating. That is especially troubling to officials in the department's big law enforcement agencies, which are essential to improving the nation's border security and thwarting terrorist attacks.

For example, when asked whether "pay raises depend on how well employees do their jobs," nearly 60 percent of those surveyed at Customs and Border Protection responded with what the report labeled "negative" views. The question also drew negative responses at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (54.6 percent), the Secret Service (52.5 percent) and the Transportation Security Administration (54.9 percent).

Employees at these law enforcement agencies were slightly less negative about their chances for winning a promotion and getting recognized for their creativity. A substantial number appeared to be uncertain how they felt or had no opinion. On the pay, promotion and creativity questions, about one in four employees opted to check "neutral" as a response.

For the 2007 survey, the department received completed forms from 65,753 of 141,160 eligible employees, a response rate of 47 percent.

The survey suggested that the department may be losing ground in some areas even as it improves in others.

For example, 49 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their salaries, compared with 55 percent in 2006. Only 32 percent said they were satisfied by their level of involvement in decisions that affect their work, down seven percentage points from 2006.

But 62 percent agreed that their workload is reasonable, up from 55 percent. And 29 percent said differences in performance were recognized by their bosses "in a meaningful way," up from 22 percent in 2006.

The survey report offered no detailed analysis of what the findings mean. But it noted that employees rated twice as many survey items as problem areas than as strengths. "Not surprisingly, supervisors were more positive than nonsupervisors," the report said.

The report, prepared by a consultant, includes recommendations for follow-up action, such as using town hall meetings and focus groups to identify where improvements are needed. "It is extremely important," the report said, that any efforts to address employee issues include rank-and-file workers.

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