President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Jeh Johnson, has been confirmed by the Senate in a final vote of 78–16. This comes after a swift confirmation from the Homeland Security Committee early this month.
The swift and quick confirmation left many with lingering questions. Concerns from both Democrats and Republicans have brought to light Johnson’s questionable experience. Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) questioned Johnson’s experience for leading DHS. “I’m not saying he’s not a good man, but he’s not a good choice for this,” Sessions said. Senator John McCain (R–AZ) also expressed his apprehension about the confirmation and Johnson’s inability to address any questions surrounding immigration policy.
DHS has had no real leadership since the departure of Janet Napolitano. Currently, DHS still has some 40 vacant senior positions that need to be filled. Immigration and reviving morale at the department are key topics the former Department of Defense Pentagon general counsel will have to finally answer. In a recent report, The Heritage Foundation highlights several important issues that the new Secretary must face in order to revitalize the department:
- Congressional oversight. Since its inception, DHS has been plagued with a massive number of oversight committees and subcommittees, a legacy from the department being cobbled together from 22 pre-existing agencies. DHS’s oversight and operations could be streamlined. Experience has shown that little good can come of the present oversight arrangement.
- Ending pork-barrel security-related grants. Homeland security grants have become the newest form of pork-barrel spending and suffer from a severe lack of accountability and oversight. Often valuable homeland security grant dollars are being spent on low-value or truly worthless projects, such as underwater robots in Columbus, Ohio (which has only creeks and small lakes nearby), or a zombie apocalypse simulation at a California island resort. While DHS has made attempts to reform these programs, entrenched interests have hindered common-sense reforms.
- Departmental image. DHS and its various agencies have some of the worst public images in government and some of the least satisfied workforces in federal service. Indeed, just last year, the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing titled, “Building One DHS: Why Is Employee Morale Low?” The answer from both Democrats and Republicans was a lack of leadership. As DHS Secretary, Johnson would fully bear this responsibility.
As Johnson takes the next few weeks to settle into his new job, he should begin to formulate his opinions and strategies on how he plans to address the growing concerns that currently riddle the department.