Lawmakers Seek to Boost DHS Morale

House lawmakers have passed a measure to address chronically low morale within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Low morale has led to slow hiring and a lack of innovation throughout the department, and lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the legislation to increase employee engagement.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and entitled the DHS Morale, Recognition, Learning and Engagement Act of 2019 or the DHS MORALE Act, passed the House by a voice vote this week.

The DHS has been consistently ranked last in employee engagement by the Best Places to Work survey.

As Federal Computer Week explained, low morale has left the agency unable to fill critical positions relating to cybersecurity and innovation. The Washington Post also has reports dating back to 2016 noting how low morale at the DHS has caused staffing challenges for law enforcement, requiring existing employees to be overworked and exacerbating the low morale.

Rep. Thompson’s legislation would create a steering committee with representatives from various agency departments and employee unions to advise the department on employee engagement. The committee would also report on potential factors causing negative morale and offer changes.

Following a report by the steering committee, the DHS would issue a department wide engagement action plan and heads of departments within the agency would be tasked with implementing the plan.

The legislation would also expand the duties of the Chief Human Capital Officer, including to:

  • Develop policies for leader development and employee engagement, based on government and private-sector best practices.
  • Incorporate the needs of employees when developing recruitment and human capital programs and career path frameworks.
  • Maintain a catalog of development opportunities, including leadership and rotational programs.
  • Ensure that employee discipline programs comply with laws and regulations and protect due process.
  • Analyze workforce satisfaction surveys and issue recommendations to improve employee morale.

The legislation would also call for the establishment of an employee awards program and establish an internal review board to make award recommendations and hold an awards ceremony.

Groups supporting the bill include the American Federation of Government Employees, National Border Patrol Council, and National Treasury Employees Union.

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