Homeland Security Vacancies Called 'Enormous' Security Risk

The chairman of the committee is rankled after a report showed that nearly one-quarter of senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security are empty.
The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Monday called vacant leadership positions within the Department of Homeland Security an "enormous security vulnerability."

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., pointed to a staff report out this week that nearly one-quarter of the senior leadership positions in the Department of Homeland Security tasked with protecting the country from terrorist threats are vacant. In addition to the critical leadership vacancies, Thompson noted that the report finds an unusually high number of critical national security jobs at the department filled by political appointees.

"Homeland Security was bruised when the country learned that Michael Brown, an Arabian horse aficionado, was running FEMA," said Thompson in a written statement. "But what's worse than a Homeland Security organization with poor leadership is a homeland security organization with no leadership. Not just a national security concern, DHS's lack of leadership has triggered record-low employee morale, an immeasurable disservice to the hundreds of thousands of men and woman working on the front lines to protect our country."

The report, titled "Critical Leadership Vacancies Impede United States Department Of Homeland Security," was prepared by the majority staff of the Committee on Homeland Security. It contends that contract abuses, poor leadership, and low employee moral have been endemic, and that the vacancies "could lead to heightened vulnerability to terrorist attack."

As of May 1, there were 575 executive positions in the Department of Homeland Security, and 138 of them -- or 24% -- were vacant. The report also showed that some parts of the department are in more trouble than others. The Office of the General Counsel has 47% of its executive positions vacant, while the Office for the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence has 36% of its positions vacant. Another 34% of the top positions in the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are empty, as are 31% of the posts in the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Whether the positions are unfilled because they are new or because the department cannot fill them, the point remains that nearly one-quarter of senior officials that the department requires to conduct its business and protect our communities are absent," stated the report. "Because of the Department of Homeland Security's unique mission, this void directly impairs our homeland security and our readiness.

"The gaping hole in department executive resources is a homeland security issue that must be addressed and rectified immediately," the report stated.

The report comes just weeks after a congressional hearing that took the Department of Homeland Security and its CIO, Scott Charbo, to task for weaknesses in the department's computer network. A report came out at the hearing that the department suffered 844 "cybersecurity incidents" within a two-year period.

According to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., chairman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology, the incidents ranged from workstations infected with Trojans and viruses to a compromised department Web site, classified e-mails being sent over unclassified networks, and unauthorized users attaching their personal computers to DHS networks and gaining access to government equipment and data. He also said the incidents included "numerous classified data spillages."

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