Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson objected Monday to an article in The Washington Post that reported how high turnover and low morale are affecting his department’s ability to stay ahead of emerging threats.
In a statement, Johnson said the story “is about the past and disregards the present’’ and focuses excessively on past problems at the Department of Homeland Security while paying scant attention to more positive developments in recent months.
“The story’s portrayal of the Department of Homeland Security is unrecognizable to anyone acquainted with the remarkable reconstruction of this agency over the last nine months,’’ Johnson wrote. He said that 12 senior level officials have been appointed to DHS posts over the past nine months and each has “pledged to serve until at least the end of this Administration.’’
The Post reported that employees have left DHS at a rate nearly twice as fast as from the government overall during the past four years. The departures, reflected in a federal database, are the result of what employees widely describe as structural problems at the department that date to its founding a decade ago: a dysfunctional work environment, abysmal morale, and the lure of private security companies that have proliferated in Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The exodus is undercutting DHS’s ability to stay ahead of a range of emerging threats, including potential terrorist strikes and cyber attacks, according to several dozen inteviews with current and former DHS officials and government reports.
There have been several key departures in just the last few months, including for instance Larry Zelvin, who had directed DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, and Jenny Menna, a senior DHS cyber official who had worked in various department roles for eight years.
The article noted progress made since Johnson was confirmed in December, saying he has won praise from lawmakers for taking steps to improve morale and retain employees and that the Senate has confirmed nine other top DHS officials
Johnson said the article did not pay enough attention to recent steps at the department.
“This turnaround is almost entirely disregarded by the Post, as it is compressed into just two paragraphs in a 56-paragraph story.’’ Johnson continued. “It is unfortunate that the Post overlooked this remarkable and unprecedented change to new and stable leadership, and the speed with which it has occurred.’’
Johnson added, “Over the last nine months, this Department has been quickly transformed into one with new, steady and able leadership.” He cited initiatives to improve morale, make hiring and promotions more transparent, improve training and pay department employees more.