Although the department as a whole has lower morale on average than other federal agencies, some components of DHS rate above average. And the department’s low morale is spread across many employee groups, including management and non-management, pay grade and tenure, according to the report, which analyzed Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data.
Levels of job satisfaction and job engagement vary widely among DHS agencies. On job satisfaction, the Transportation Security Administration is 14.7 percentage points below the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center and 11.6 percentage points below the non-DHS average.
There also are wide variations within the TSA. The employee engagement index was 64.8 for the TSA’s federal security director staff and 50.9 for screeners.
“A TSA screener union representative described TSA’s performance assessment system as a key driver of morale problems among passenger screeners,” the report said. The American Federation of Government Employees represents screeners.
The GAO said DHS has tried to determine the root causes of low employee morale but needs to strengthen its action plan to deal with the problem. “DHS does not have specific metrics within the action plans that are consistently clear and measurable,” the GAO said.
In comments included with the report, DHS agreed with the GAO’s recommendations to improve the department’s analysis of the causes of the morale problems and to establish better action-plan metrics.
“DHS is committed to improving employee engagement and morale,” the department’s letter to the GAO said.
In March, Catherine Emerson, personnel chief at DHS, told a congressional hearing that the department has a three-pronged strategy to improve employee morale. It comprises instructing agency heads to prioritize employee engagement; working to improve communication, training, diversity and employee recognition; and strengthening leadership skills and capacity.
“We recognize the difficulties that exist due to the many organizational cultures that were brought together when the Department was created nine years ago,” her written testimony said, “but these difficulties are not insurmountable and we will continue to move forward.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.