Department of Homeland Security:
Taking Further Action to Better Determine Causes of Morale Problems Would Assist in Targeting Action Plans
GAO-12-940: Published: Sep 28, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2012.
What GAO Found
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees reported having lower average morale than the average for the rest of the federal government, but morale varied across components and employee groups within the department. Data from the 2011 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS)--a tool that measures employees' perceptions of whether and to what extent conditions characterizing successful organizations are present in their agencies--showed that DHS employees had 4.5 percentage points lower job satisfaction and 7.0 percentage points lower engagement in their work overall. Engagement is the extent to which employees are immersed in their work and spending extra effort on job performance. Moreover, within most demographic groups available for comparison, DHS employees scored lower on average satisfaction and engagement than the average for the rest of the federal government. For example, within most pay categories DHS employees reported lower satisfaction and engagement than non-DHS employees in the same pay groups. Levels of satisfaction and engagement varied across components, with some components reporting scores above the non-DHS averages. Several components with lower morale, such as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), made up a substantial share of FEVS respondents at DHS, and accounted for a significant portion of the overall difference between the department and other agencies. In addition, components that were created with the department or shortly thereafter tended to have lower morale than components that previously existed. Job satisfaction and engagement varied within components as well. For example, employees in TSA's Federal Security Director staff reported higher satisfaction (by 13 percentage points) and engagement (by 14 percentage points) than TSA's airport security screeners.
DHS has taken steps to determine the root causes of employee morale problems and implemented corrective actions, but it could strengthen its survey analyses and metrics for action plan success. To understand morale problems, DHS and selected components took steps, such as implementing an exit survey and routinely analyzing FEVS results. Components GAO selected for review--ICE, TSA, the Coast Guard, and Customs and Border Protection--conducted varying levels of analyses regarding the root causes of morale to understand leading issues that may relate to morale. DHS and the selected components planned actions to improve FEVS scores based on analyses of survey results, but GAO found that these efforts could be enhanced. Specifically, 2011 DHS-wide survey analyses did not include evaluations of demographic group differences on morale-related issues, the Coast Guard did not perform benchmarking analyses, and it was not evident from documentation the extent to which DHS and its components used root cause analyses in their action planning. Without these elements, DHS risks not being able to address the underlying concerns of its varied employee population. In addition, GAO found that despite having broad performance metrics in place to track and assess DHS employee morale on an agency-wide level, DHS does not have specific metrics within the action plans that are consistently clear and measurable. As a result, DHS's ability to assess its efforts to address employee morale problems and determine if changes should be made to ensure progress toward achieving its goals is limited.
Why GAO Did This Study
DHS is the third largest cabinet-level department in the federal government, employing more than 200,000 staff in a broad range of jobs. Since it began operations in 2003, DHS employees have reported having low job satisfaction. DHS employee concerns about job satisfaction are one example of the challenges the department faces implementing its missions. GAO has designated the implementation and transformation of DHS as a high risk area, including its management of human capital, because it represents an enormous and complex undertaking that will require time to achieve in an effective and efficient manner. GAO was asked to examine: (1) how DHS's employee morale compared with that of other federal employees, and (2) the extent to which DHS and selected components have determined the root causes of employee morale, and developed action plans to improve morale. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed survey evaluations, focus group reports, and DHS and component action planning documents, and interviewed officials from DHS and four components, selected based on workforce size, among other things.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that DHS examine its root cause analysis efforts and add the following, where absent: comparisons of demographic groups, benchmarking, and linkage of root cause findings to action plans; and establish clear and measurable metrics of action plan success. DHS concurred with our recommendations.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: In fiscal year 2012, we reviewed and reported on actions DHS took to address the morale of its employees. We reported, among other things, that DHS's Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and DHS components had not consistently used three survey analysis techniques when analyzing employee survey results--comparisons of demographic groups, benchmarking against similar organizations, and linking root cause findings to action plans. DHS OCHCO officials, and supporting documentation, indicate some actions taken to incorporate these techniques. Specifically, as of June 2017, officials provided copies of the DHS FY 2017 Component Employee Engagement Action Plans. We reviewed the action plans and spoke with DHS OCHCO officials to determine the extent to which DHS's action plans addressed our recommendation. Several action plans we reviewed included evidence of utilizing the three survey analysis techniques we recommended, while other action plans lack some or all of the techniques. For example, components whose action plans fully address the recommendation includes: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Components whose action plans partially address the recommendation are: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and U.S. Secret Service (USSS). National Protection and Programs Directorate's (NPPD) action plan did not address any of the three survey analysis techniques. According to DHS OCHCO officials, while OCHCO developed a checklist to consult when creating action plans to address employee survey results, senior management decided not to require that components use the checklist in developing their action plans as it may limit their freedom to develop their goals and planning. To fully address this recommendation, DHS OCHCO officials need to continue to provide documentary evidence of demographic analysis, benchmarking, and root cause linkage efforts completed for components that have not fully addressed the recommendation in their action plans. DHS OCHCO officials agreed with our analysis and reiterated their intent to fully implement this recommendation. We will update the status of this recommendation after additional information is received from DHS. Status as of June 2017.
Recommendation: To strengthen DHS's evaluation and planning process for addressing employee morale, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) and component human capital officials to examine their root cause analysis efforts and, where absent, add the following: comparisons of demographic groups, benchmarking against similar organizations, and linkage of root cause findings to action plans.
Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In fiscal year 2012, we reviewed and reported on actions DHS took to address the morale of its employees. We reported, among other things, that DHS's Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and DHS components measures of action plan success related to employee morale could have improved clarity and incorporated measurable targets. DHS officials regularly provided us with copies of annual component employee engagement action plans, most recently as of October 2017. Since issuing our report, we reviewed the action plans and provided feedback to DHS OCHCO officials identifying the extent to which the plans addressed our recommendation. Our review as of October 2017 indicated that component action plans included clear and measureable targets for initiatives to improve morale. For example, TSA updated its metrics to include various measurable targets, such as internal scores of 3.5 out of 5.0 or higher on measures of employee satisfaction with conflict resolution mechanisms. U.S. CIS updated plans with numerous clear and measurable metrics, such as a 10 percent increase participation in a supervisor coaching program and a 70 percent satisfaction rate or higher for supervisors' satisfaction with a training program in leadership. Other components, including U.S. Secret Service, NPPD, FEMA, ICE, Coast Guard, and CBP provided action plans that included similarly clear and measurable metrics. With implementation of these performance metric improvements, DHS is better positioned to assess its progress in addressing employee morale challenges.
Recommendation: To strengthen DHS's evaluation and planning process for addressing employee morale, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the OCHCO and component human capital officials to establish metrics of success within the action plans that are clear and measurable.
Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security