Turnover Rate Stabilizes at Homeland Security

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, July 26, 2007

On issues of staffing, there is a glimmer of progress at the Department of Homeland Security.

The attrition rate -- employees who resign or transfer out of the department -- appears to be stable in key homeland security agencies, according to a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office.

If the Transportation Security Administration, which has suffered from high turnover, is not counted, the department's overall attrition rate is less than the federal average of 4 percent, the GAO found.

Homeland Security, not including the TSA, lost 3.3 percent of its employees in 2005 and 2006.

Turnover is only one method of taking stock of the department's health. Congress has also kept check on morale problems at the Homeland Security Department. In a government-wide survey last year, department employees rated it last or almost last in such areas as job satisfaction and leadership.

The issues have cropped up repeatedly on Capitol Hill, in large part because Congress looks to Homeland Security employees as a frontline defense against terrorism. Yesterday, for instance, House and Senate negotiators agreed on a compromise bill to carry out recommendations by the 9/11 Commission. The bill would create new Homeland Security programs and responsibilities, such as screening all cargo on passenger aircraft, within three years.

Congress has been especially troubled by churning in the department's top political and executive jobs.

In 2005 and 2006, the department's headquarters "experienced a turnover of more than half its senior employees through resignation or transfer to another executive branch department," the GAO report said.

The high attrition rate for passenger and baggage screeners at the TSA -- 17.6 percent in 2005 and 14.6 percent last year -- has also caused concern, though agency officials think a new career program started last year will make it easier to retain screeners.

The program is designed to help employees improve their technical skills, move into other career positions and boost morale. As part of the program, the TSA has markedly increased the frequency of bonuses in the past year, the GAO said.

To fill jobs, the department has used the Federal Career Intern Program to recruit employees. The interns serve in a two-year training program and, upon successful completion, move to regular civil service jobs.

In 2005, 15.5 percent of all new department hires were from the intern program, the GAO said. That share increased to 22.5 percent in 2006.

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