Low DHS morale holds lesson for reorganization proponents


So, morale is low at the Homeland Security Department. Such is often the fate of new departments and big agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency, an old Washington hand once assured me, had a reputation as a terrible place to work for much of the 1970s. The Energy Department likewise went through an uncomfortable first few years since it brought together five previously separate agencies.

The fact that DHS, 9 years after its creation, still comparatively suffers, then is no great surprise--especially when you consider that the department is the accumulation of 22 previously separate agencies and that many components of DHS maintain distinct missions. It's a little difficult at times to see the synergy between, say, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

True, the difficulty of creating DHS may have been unnecessarily increased thanks to the rushed quality surrounding its creation and its initial reputation as a dumping ground for incompetents. The little gold rush of homeland security contracting of the past decade hasn't helped, either; neither has the fractured congressional oversight that continues to this day.

But even without the mitigating factors listed above, DHS would not have ever been an easy department to stand up.

It's good to reflect on this when considering the latest proposal to create additional low morale within the federal government: the Obama administration's proposal to merge the Small Business Administration and other agencies plus most of the Commerce Department into some kind of super-adenoidal Business Department.

A lot of reorganizations get proposed, or done, because they cause activity that has the appearance of change. This is one of those proposals. Supporters have highlighted the supposed upsides of a reorganization including greater efficiency. Obviously, they're not taking into account the costs that a reorganization would exact--costs which DHS demonstrates can last longer than any presidential administration. Exacting real efficiencies is difficult and the steps this administration has taken toward them have been halting and unfocused. If efficiency is what the White House truly wants, let it spend some extra but unglamorous effort on undertaking its efficiencies agenda. The other route promises just more talk about low employee morale, a decade from now. - Dave