A Ready and Resilient Workforce for the Department of Homeland Security: Protecting America's Front Line
The responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) range from preventing foreign and domestic terrorist attacks; securing the nation’s borders; safeguarding transportation systems; responding to natural disasters; nuclear detection; and more. Created in 2002 from a merger that rapidly incorporated parts of eight cabinet departments and 22 government agencies, DHS has struggled to integrate its numerous components and their unique cultures. While DHS is very accomplished at performing its many missions, the nature of the DHS work environment is inherently stressful, and employees suffer from low morale.
Acknowledging the tremendous burdens placed on DHS employees every day and the need to strengthen its workforce resilience program, the DHS Office of Health Affairs (OHA) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene a committee of experts to review current workforce resilience efforts, identify gaps, and provide recommendations for a 5-year strategy to improve DHSTogether, the current DHS workforce resilience program. OHA staff and leadership expressed a genuine desire to support the workforce in a comprehensive way and recognized that they needed advice on how to improve their workforce resilience efforts.
The committee’s report, A Ready and Resilient Workforce for the Department of Homeland Security: Protecting America’s Front Line, stresses the importance of strong leadership, communication, measurement, and evaluation in the organization and recommends content for a 5-year plan that will promote centralized strategic direction and resource investment to improve readiness and resilience at the department.
Limited Resources and Data
In late 2009 and at the direction of the DHS deputy secretary, OHA created DHSTogether, a program intended to build resilience and wellness across DHS’s many components. However, the DHSTogether program to date has been a series of disconnected small initiatives, lacking a vision statement, specific goals, or measurable objectives. Limited funding and lack of tasking authority means that little to no resources are tied to efforts developed by the program.
In addition, DHS currently has no working definition or validated measure for workforce resilience, and no data to determine whether previously implemented activities concerning resilience within the organization have been effective. Therefore, the committee could not be certain that the DHS workforce has a resilience deficit. The workforce may demonstrate a high level of resilience by executing their duties admirably in the face of low morale and numerous organizational challenges.
To inform its evaluation, the committee reviewed evidence gleaned from two public IOM workshops held in 2011 at the request of DHS on how to improve the DHSTogether program and from two meetings held by the committee to learn more about current resilience efforts at DHS. The committee also conducted site visits to several DHS component agencies.
Taking into account the limited data available on the state of workforce resilience at DHS, the committee took a broad look at potential contributing factors to workforce health, as opposed to resilience alone. It adopted the Joint Chiefs of Staff definition for resilience, which is "the ability to withstand, recover, and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands," and the Department of Defense definition for ready, which is "the capability of an individual, unit, or system to perform the missions or functions for which it was intended or designed."
A ready and resilient workforce has high morale, is adaptable, finds purpose and meaning in their jobs, and is productive and engaged. The committee views the DHS readiness and resilience effort as something that needs to be embedded in the core culture of DHS while maintaining the rich diversity that the component agencies bring to the organization. The committee provides seven recommendations to reach these goals.
Promoting a Unified Strategy, Common Vision, and Strong Leadership
The IOM committee concludes that DHS should use this evaluation as an opportunity for resilience efforts to get a fresh start. A rebranded resilience program should have a clear vision of a ready, resilient, and sustainable DHS workforce operating to ensure a safe, secure, and resilient nation. In addition, high visibility, involvement, support, and accountability from all levels of leadership at DHS are necessary for the program’s success.
To achieve this vision, the committee recommends that the Secretary of DHS review the current roles, responsibilities, accountability, and authorities for workforce readiness and resilience at DHS, and ensure that resources are available to build and maintain this effort. The administrator of workforce readiness and resilience should be charged with the design, implementation, and execution of the long-term strategic plan — with bottom-up input from each component — tasked with assessing effectiveness of the effort, and report annually to the Secretary on the state of DHS’s workforce resilience and readiness efforts.
Strong leadership at all levels within DHS is an essential part of building a resilient workforce, and the committee recommends that DHS create a leadership development program — distinct from management skills training — to train leaders appropriate to their level of responsibility. This training program should include mentorship; sponsorship, which helps identify promising new leaders and establish relationships for them with senior leaders; objective ways to identify employees with high potential; creation of leadership opportunities; and evidence-informed measurement of leadership performance.