This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author.
On June 20, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Homeland Security Morale, Recognition, Learning and Engagement Act of 2017, also called the DHS MORALE Act. The bipartisan bill now goes to the Senate.
The DHS MORALE Act, sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), is intended to improve morale in DHS by requiring a number of specific actions. The issue of DHS morale is not new, nor is it likely to be solved by the activities the bill requires. The following is a look at what the bill requires, along with my assessment of how much of a difference each requirement might make and some thoughts on what it would take to see real improvement.
In his testimony supporting the DHS 2018 budget, Kelly raised the issue of a DHS Authorization Act. People who follow government are probably familiar with the National Defense Authorization Act. It lays out broad program mandates for the Department of Defense, and is the vehicle through which much of the debate about defense priorities occurs. You probably have not heard of the DHS Authorization Act because it does not and has never existed. Kelly testified that “The department has not been authorized during its existence, and I look forward to supporting the passage of legislation that provides us with the necessary authorities to successfully fulfill our primary task of keeping the American people safe in a more streamlined and unified manner.” He also said of his workforce in a speech in April, “They have been asked to do more with less, and less, and less. They are often ridiculed and insulted by public officials, and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and spokespersons.”
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Federal News Radio reported that Kelly said the public and public officials should err on the side of assuming that the agency’s employees are acting within the law. And for members of Congress who don’t like the laws, Kelly said they “should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.” Perhaps Kelly was a bit strident in his defense of his workforce, but he made valid points on both the DHS Authorization Act issue and the treatment of the DHS workforce.
I wrote about this issue in a blog post in 2014. The constant criticism of the DHS workforce by the press and politicians, and some members of the public, has a corrosive effect on morale. I am not saying that bills such as the DHS MORALE Act are a bad idea, but a far more effective solution would be to support the men and women of DHS and make it clear that we value what they do. The time I spent in DHS totally changed my perception of the department and its workforce. I saw people who work their butts off for the American people, and who get very little support. In that respect, and on the authorization issue, DHS is treated like the poor stepchild compared to the Department of Defense. We finally learned that we should support our warfighters and value the work they do. Maybe if we extended those lessons to DHS, we really would see some big improvements in morale.
Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF and founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Homeland Security Department and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.