DHS And TSA: Extra Points For Consistency

March 18, 2015
DHS and TSA have once again bottomed out in the annual survey of employee opinions and perspectives of the best/worst place to work in government

They’ve done it again. It no longer comes as a surprise that DHS and TSA have once again bottomed out in the annual survey of employee opinions and perspectives of the best/worst place to work in government, published by the Partnership for Public Service. DHS is #19 of the 19 “Large Agencies”, down 2.8 points from last year; TSA ranks #305 out of 315 Federal Agency sub-components; down 3.5 points from last year, only slightly topping 5 other DHS sub-agencies, including ICE at #314 (down 5.6 points) and Intelligence Analysis at #313 (down 2.2). CBP isn’t very far ahead of TSA at #293, down 1.6 points. http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/rankings/overall/sub . Out of 14 categories of satisfaction rankings at TSA such as effective leadership, strategic management, and innovation, among others, ten have declined since last year, all ten of them ranking 300 or below of the 314 agencies, the worst being pay at dead last, 314th, , down 0.7 point. The highest TSA ranking is training at #217 on the totem pole, and 13 of 14 demographic rankings (gender, age, race, veterans, etc.) all declined significantly; the only increased was employees with disabilities, but was still near bottom, at #171 out of 179.

Three rankings are of particular interest: “Employee Skills - Mission Match” is ranked #300 of 314; “Effective Leadership of Senior Leaders” and “Effective Leadership of Supervisors”, ranked at #300 and #303 respectively. I’m neither a social scientist nor a statistical analyst, but here’s what those numbers say to me: (a) the employees themselves apparently don’t feel they have the right skills for a critical security mission that (b) their Senior Leaders have either failed to appropriately define or failed to communicate, so (c) Senior Supervisors therefore cannot effectively transfer to and motivate employees (d) who believe they are underpaid (#314) for an ill-defined mission with only moderately effective training being provided (#217).

We’ve all seen the stories about low morale throughout all of DHS, and rapid top-level turnover which has resulted in a series of re-organizations and re-inventions of not-very-round wheels. There have been at least four overlapping studies collectively costing several million dollars to figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it, and a few more still unfinished, all of which have come up with sufficiently bad news to simply ignore them and do virtually nothing. I wish I had a good answer; I don’t even have a bad one, but clearly the steeper downward trend year after year has been a message wasted on deaf managerial ears that keep walking out the door rather than take responsibility for fixing what they’re at least partially responsible for breaking.   The surveys and studies and reports and investigations keep flashing the bad news in big red letters, but building a committed, well trained and appropriately paid work force with knowledgeable leadership commitment among the top ranks doesn’t appear to be among their top priorities, at least until the next big disaster, and yet another committee to do yet another study to figure out what went wrong with all those guys who just left the agency that continues to be among the worst places to work in Washington.