Many of President-elect Biden’s choices for leadership jobs in his administration so far have experience with the agencies he wants them to lead. His choice for DHS is Alejandro Mayorkas, who was deputy secretary at the agency in the second Obama term.
One thing that will be important as far as the agenda inside DHS in the next administration is reducing the amount of acting positions. “There’s going to be a real push, I think, to do away with this acting perspective. There are so many actings in the department,” said Chris Cummiskey, former acting under secretary at DHS. “You can do a lot in those jobs, but you really do need to have Senate-confirmed individuals in those positions.”
Immigration, COVID-19 rollouts, climate change and emerging threats are next on the list of issues Cummiskey believes DHS is likely to tackle.
A new DHS secretary might come in right as a COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out. Secretarial nominee Mayorkas will probably have an advantage, said Cummiskey, because he was there during H1N1 and Ebola.
“It’s a logistical feat” to roll out a vaccine across the country, Cummiskey said, and it will take a coordinated approach among government at all levels. DHS will play a central role in that along with HHS and other agencies.
Employee morale at DHS has been an issue that both the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration have worked hard to improve. Jeh Johnson and Alejandro Mayorkas, when they served together at DHS, had a focus on improving FEVS scores, according to Cummiskey. Additionally, when Mayorkas was at CIS, it was “on the cusp of moving in the right direction,” said Cummiskey.
“It’s not going to turn around in a couple of years,” Cummiskey said of the morale issue. “There are things that work, but they do take time, and they need to be sustained, and I think you’re going to see that start again in January.”