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Chris Currie, Director of Emergency Management, Disaster Recovery & DHS Management Issues at GAO, explains what it will take to generate significant improvement in employee morale and engagement at DHS

The Department of Homeland Security struggles with employee morale, as evidenced by its consistently low rankings on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Chris Currie, who oversees Department of Homeland Security management issues at the Government Accountability Office, joined “Government Matters” to discuss the employee engagement efforts already underway at DHS and to explain where the agency can improve morale.

“We’ve been looking at [morale] since the Department opened its doors in 2003, and so we continue to look and what the department, and, maybe more importantly, its components, are doing to strengthen employee morale and employee engagement,” Currie said.

He said DHS has done a good job implementing agency-wide policies, but that the components of the agency need to be held accountable for morale. Components include the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

“Oftentimes when morale at DHS is discussed, or in Congressional hearings, the fingers tend to point towards the Department itself or the Chief Human Capital Officer, but really I think the solutions to this issue lie in the components, particularly TSA, CBP, FEMA and others like that,” Currie said.

The drivers of employee engagement at the Department of Homeland Security, he said, are the same factors that drive engagement at other agencies. Some of the factors listed in the GAO report include constructive performance conversations, career development and training, work-life balance, inclusive work environment and communication from management.

“At the Department level, we think they’re doing a lot to set the right tone and to develop the requirements, however I just think that in order to make a real impact in the scores moving forward, particularly in the large components, it’s going to really take the leadership of those components, and [for] those components to be held accountable,” Currie said.

He suggested that Congress look at the morale piece when they review the mission of each of the components of DHS.

“I don’t want to minimize the unique nature of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission and the tough jobs those folks have, but one point we really wanted to drive home is there’s no reason why DHS can’t make improvements in morale. It’s not a hopeless cause,” Currie said.

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