Study After Study Shows The DHS Has An Intense Morale Problem That Can Apparently Only Be Solved By Study After Study

from the 'we've-tried-nothing-and-we're-all-out-of-ideas!' dept

Guess which national agency's feelings hurt the most?
The 2014 Best Places To Work in the Federal Government Survey, published by Stier’s group, ranked DHS dead last among large agencies.

[...]

Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit. Others have described in interviews how a stifling bureaucracy and relentless congressional criticism makes DHS an exhausting, even infuriating, place to work.
Beyond the problems listed here, there are a great many reasons why it might suck to work for the DHS. To begin with, the agency is actually a Frankensteinian monstrosity consisting of 22 agencies, all with their own ideas on how to run things and nearly all of them with their own sets of problems.

The DHS is in the (relatively) newly-minted business of securing the homeland against all comers -- mostly terrorists of the foreign and domestic varieties. Whether it's done out of paranoia or just the overwhelming need to look busy every time the national budget nears a vote, the DHS has gone overboard in its assessments of potential threats. The shorter of the two lists it has compiled by this point would be titled "Not Terrorists." Over the years, the DHS has conjectured that terrorists are hiding in food trucks, using hotel side entrances, exercising their First Amendment rights, possibly years away from graduating high school… etc.

The DHS also presides over the TSA, a security agency in name only that seems mostly interested in patting down mastectomy patients, running their brusquely officious hands over pre-teens, dumping breast milk and other "explosives precursors" into nearby garbage cans and feeling completely threatened by words printed in foreign languages.

It also keeps an eye on the CBP, which can't seem to stop shooting unarmed people, follow its own guidelines on vehicle searches, and operates a fleet of shiny, expensive and nearly useless drones.

Then there's ICE (with its own morale problems), the IP-focused Keystone Kops whose antics -- including yanking websites away from owners without a word of explanation and returning them years later without an apology, raiding lingerie shops for dangerously unlicensed panties, and struggling to come up with excuses for denying FOIA fee waiver requests -- are only outpaced by the imaginary rights vendettas of the City of London police.

That would be enough to depress anyone, especially the good employees who started out with ideals and enthusiasm but are now forced to answer question after question after question about why working for the nation's largest group of unhinged conspiracy theorists is a bit of a downer. The DHS has dumped a lot of money into divining the sources of its employees' unhappiness. But it seems more interested in spending money than fixing the problems.
The first study cost about $1 million. When it was finished, it was put in a drawer. The next one cost less but duplicated the first. It also ended up in a drawer.

So last year, still stumped about why the employees charged with safeguarding Americans are so unhappy, the department commissioned two more studies.
Yes, if anything's going to fix morale, it's going to be periodic questioning of employees who know their last several answers went completely ignored. Will the latest studies be titled "NO REALLY GUYS THIS TIME WE'RE LISTENING?"

To hear people like new DHS head Jeh Johnson tell it, the agency has never been more interested in improving morale.
Johnson and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have “personally committed themselves to improving the morale and workforce satisfaction across the Department of Homeland Security,” said Ginette Magana, a DHS spokeswoman. “They are directly engaging with employees, listening to their concerns, working diligently to improve employee recognition and training, and are focused on strengthening the skills and abilities of every employee. She said the studies “comprise a first step in a comprehensive process dedicated to tangible results.”
Yeah, but what about all the other "first steps" currently tucked away in drawers, presumably still in mint condition? How many "first steps" and empty promises are DHS employees expected to suffer through before they finally wander away from the metaphoric disinterested, lying spouse they call an employer? "No, really. This time will be different, honey. I SWEAR."

As it stands now, DHS employees pretty much have to stick guns in their mouths before someone will start paying attention to their morale issues.
Three years ago, officials in the department’s office of health affairs, which provides expertise on national security medical issues, began to wonder about the health of one of their own programs. In response to low scores on the viewpoint survey, officials had set up a program, DHSTogether, aimed at making DHS “one of the best places to work in the Federal government.”
The DHS spent over a million dollars on yet another study to find out why this study-prompted "Togetherness" wasn't working. The National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine arrived at this alarming conclusion.
The report, released in September 2013, concluded that DHSTogether had been starved of money and support from DHS leaders and devolved into little more than an ineffective suicide prevention program.
The DHS apparently didn't feel like talking anyone down, so it buried the report on the report as well.

And the vicious cycle of studies will continue. On top of the two recently-commissioned studies, the agency plans to add a "follow-up" survey to its annual "viewpoint survey," and plans to follow up government contractor ICF's morale study with yet another study once that one's completed.

Clearly, bureaucracy -- especially the combined bureaucracy of 22 agencies forced by terrorists knee-jerk lawmaking to live together under one superagency's roof -- generates more questions than answers. And clearly, in the DHS's case, the questions are the only part that matters.

Filed Under: dhs, ice, morale, studies


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 2:53pm

    "I don't understand, we've surveyed them at least 10 times and they STILL have terrible moral. What more can we possibly do?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kennon, 25 Feb 2015 @ 3:01pm

    military too?

    It could be linked to the similarly historically low morale and high suicide rates of US soldiers that some are contributing to their decade long engagement in immoral missions? I think I read about the KGB and Stasi agents in the 1980's having high rates of depression and suicide as well :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 26 Feb 2015 @ 6:31am

      Re: military too?

      Add to that the problems with sexual abuse by superior officers and you're nearly there. It's a massive (and mostly overlooked) issue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 3:10pm

    Who profits from these surveys?

    Follow the money...I bet *someone* wants to keep doing these surveys...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 3:14pm

    Easy first step for morale

    Make the department worthy of a positive public opinion, so that employees do not get caught in the backwash of negative opinion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 3:33pm

    "Going Homeland" anyone?

    It took a few mass-shootings by mad-as-hell employees before the US Postal Service finally fessed up to the problems of its oppressive work environment.

    Hopefully it won't require an equivalent body count before DHS enacts similar reforms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 11:34am

      Going postal

      To be fair, they were subjecting shell-shocked vets to that oppressive work environment. The PO has a policy to favor vets when hiring new workers.

      A veritable recipe for disaster.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2015 @ 11:56am

        Re: Going postal

        Like the US Postal Service, most of the country's police forces also prefer hiring ex-military, so is that also a "veritable recipe for disaster"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 12:20pm

          Re: Re: Going postal

          If you put those vets with PTSD (or, really, anyone with PTSD) into an oppressive work environment, yeah, some might pop off. I can't speak in regards to the work environment in your typical precinct. I hear that one has a margarita machine.

          While we've seen some studies about military forces in other parts of the world being used for police operations, and ending with less-than-optimal results, I can't speak to the correlation between the hiring of vets and, say, the police brutality problem in the US. More likely, that's just because cop is a great career path for bullies with anger-management problems, and human beings love authority so much that we find it hard to sustain oversight.

          Am I saying vets with PTSD are unemployable? Of course not. But most of the PTSD victims I know (some action-hardened vets, some not) are really into not taking any shit from anyone, including bosses.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 3:45pm

    Not hard to figure out

    The reason they keep conducting 'studies' is because the findings keep ending up 'wrong'. They don't want to hear that the management is the problem, as fixing that could cost the higher ups their jobs, no, what they want to hear is that the issue is some small thing that can be blamed on a factor that the bosses have nothing to do with.

    As such the reports will keep being filed away and buried, and the bosses will continue to assure the ones handing them money that they are 'looking in to the matter', and oh by the way they need another million or two for the next round of studies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:21pm

      Re: Not hard to figure out

      That, and the fact that conducting a study allows managers to tick the box marked "Addressed morale issue" and then move on to other managery things.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    randomjoe (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:03pm

    Inappropriate humor

    ... and devolved into little more than an ineffective suicide prevention program.

    Was it wrong of me to chuckle at that?

    Any place where they can't even prevent their own employees from killing themselves has got to be hell to work for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:16pm

    something something lets just disband them and see if it improves citizen morale.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:34pm

      Re:

      Getting rid of one of the main sources of "You're all going to die if you don't do everything we tell you to and give up all your rights!" scaremongering would probably be pretty effective at decreasing citizen fear at the very least, though given that's the exact opposite of what the government wants, I don't see them doing that any time soon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 4:22pm

    When you have a government bureaucracy with many little different fiefdoms, each interested in protecting it's own turf, this is the result of that.

    You start curing it by booting all the heads and putting your own people in that might listen to you, being grateful for the promotion.

    You don't promote to get rid of the non-preformer, if anything you demote in recognition of the failure. Boosting a non-preformer just to get rid of him sets the example to the rest of how to get promoted.

    Listening to complaints is not the cure, it's the first step. You actually have to do something beyond that in order to change things. As it is, the agency has set up the expectation that nothing will change and they are just going through the motions to satisfy a bitchy congress.

    All of this points to a problem with leadership, starting at the top and working it's way down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 5:09pm

    The formation of the DHS has effectively destroyed many essential agencies by incorporating non-essentials. For example, if the DHS doesn't get the funding they need, then the Coast Guard, which both recreational and commercial fisherman rely on for emergency assistance, will be left to drown.

    Not to mention, the hundreds of thousands of non-essential jobs (which many low income families rely on) they've created will at some point come buckling and who do you think will suffer?

    I hate the DHS but there are real people with families working these jobs and not 'all' by choice...it's a disaster waiting to happen for those who depend on it for income.

    Some argue that the department of defense took decades before it found its place, but this organization was birthed from fear after 9/11 and serves no other purpose than to quell those fears which don't even exist amongst the general populace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 6:29pm

    toxic mixture

    All these studies point to the lunacy of DHS formation! The analogy would be pouring miscellaneous chemicals into a vat and the surprise that the reaction was toxic, with the predictable side effect that none of the components were now useful as originally intended. Surprise that it was not a homogenized blend that enhanced each component, as originally envisioned. Ya right like that could happen with rival Gov. agencies forced into a mixed marriage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Feb 2015 @ 8:39pm

    I'm not a cheerful person. My first thought when I wake up each day alternates between "this is going to be horrible" and "damn, didn't die in my sleep." Tomorrow morning? I'm gonna try to turn my life around by thinking "hell, at least I don't work for DHS."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alpha Lupi, 25 Feb 2015 @ 9:45pm

    Old Saying

    How does that old saying go?

    "The studies will continue until morale improves"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    scotts13 (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 6:58am

    Inherent problem

    The most visible manifestations of DHS, like airport "security" guards are almost universally mocked and reviled. Who wants to be part of that? There's a reason the headsman wears a hood.

    Sadly, some parts of the vast octopus do useful work, and they get lumped in with the rest of the comic opera.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ananke (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 10:07am

    "The beatings shall continue until morale improves"

    This is not a statement that is supposed to be taken literally, but man, you just know which agencies interpret it as a management strategy, don't you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 26 Feb 2015 @ 4:58pm

    The Boogeyman Brigade.

    Gee. Sounds an awful lot like what would be expected from an agency chasing manufactured shadows and ghosts.

    If Terrorism was really just a propaganda ruse to scare Americans into giving up their freedoms in return for false security against a non-existent but highly publicized threat, manufactured by a cabal of billionaire fascists pretending to be the USG, then those agencies charged with keeping the country safe from such non-existent threats would indeed be filled with people who - after a few years of pointless paper pushing - found that they had no real jobs, no real purpose, no real leadership, no real reason to try and do their not real jobs, and generally felt they were all utterly useless and wasting their time.

    Any "study" performed on such an agency would be guaranteed bottom drawer material.

    Go figger eh. :)

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2015 @ 11:14pm

    You know why their morale is shit? A lot of these people were probably idealistic, and thought "I'm going to protect my nation", just to turn around and find out that not only does the public think they're the SS, but they're beginning to think they're the SS as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BOB GALBRAITH, 23 Mar 2015 @ 2:38pm

    FOR TIM CUSHING - FEMA

    Have you seen "Superstorm of Chaos: FEMA Disaster Diary" about how dysfunctional FEMA is? I can mail you a copy if you like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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