The department, which includes agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), received an index score of 48 on global satisfaction in 2014, compared to a score of 62 in 2010. Last year’s score marks the lowest ranking of any government department that year.
Global satisfaction measures areas such as happiness with employees’ job, pay organization and whether they would recommend their department as a good place to work.
In her testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee Thursday, Catherine Emerson, chief human capital officer for DHS, blamed the department’s dropping employee moral on sequestration, financial struggles and the recent threat of a DHS shutdown last February.
“Sequestration, cuts, freezes, furloughs all have an effect on employee morale,” she told the subcommittee. “Just recently, DHS went through a potential lapse in budget again. So that does have an effect.”
But the OPM’s annual report shows the department’s employee morale dropping every year since 2010. In 2011, DHS averaged an index score of 61 among employees in global satisfaction. In 2012, the score dropped to 56 percent, followed by an even lower score of 51 in 2013.
More than an hour into the hearing, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) was the first congressman to ask whether DHS’s low morale had anything to do with the recent surge of illegal aliens crossing the southwest U.S. border and President Barack Obama’s string of executive immigration policies, which include granting temporary amnesty to the vast majority of illegal aliens currently living in the United States.
The first of these policies, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was enacted in 2012.
“Do you think that the immigration policies of the administration that have encouraged thousands, hundreds of thousands of people to cross the border illegally, does that have an effect on morale at your agency?” Buck asked Emerson.
“I know that our secretary and deputy secretary have met with employees and their union representative to discuss that issue,” Emerson admitted.
“Is that a yes or a no?” Buck pressed.
“Oh I’m sure,” Emerson replied. “When you look at the FEV scores, it’s hard to tell what affects the scores, and oftentimes you have to do a deeper dive, so that would be hard for me to speculate on. But I know it is something that our secretary and deputy secretary work with the union partners and employees on.”
“I have worked with a number of immigration agents, and they feel like they are a racehorse that is being kept in the stable, and they never get out of the gate to be able to run, and that is the morale issue that I hear from people on the ground and from my prior life in law enforcement,” Buck said.
“If people have a mission and a mission statement, and they’re frustrated…they’re obviously attracted to the agency, because they wanted to work on that mission, and if they’re frustrated in that sense, it seems to be that would be part of the morale problem. Any opinion on that?” he asked.
“It certainly could be,” Emerson said. “As federal employees, we have different policies and laws that we have to follow, and sometimes they come with different administrations. But that’s our job, to follow the laws, rules and regulations that are in place at the time.”
The hearing comes just two days after ICE Director Sarah Saldana told members of the House Judiciary Committee that ICE agents can be fired for enforcing federal immigration law outside of Obama’s directives.
Overall, federal employees have the lowest reported morale since OPM first began conducting its annual Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey in 2003, according to OPM studies.
The federal government received an index score of 59 across all government departments and agencies in 2014. This shows a decline of eight points from 2010, when the government-wide global satisfaction score was 67.