Watchdog: Lack of permanent DHS leadership making issues there worse

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Changes and vacancies in the top ranks of the Department of Homeland Security have made it harder to hire new employees and keep ones already on staff at the department, according to a new inspector general report.

These management woes have been around since the department’s inception, but have been made worse by that lack of permanent senior leadership, which is “often beyond DHS’ control,” according to the report.

Last week, Chad Wolf became the most recent acting Homeland Security secretary, making him the fifth person to lead the department under President Donald Trump. His appointment followed weeks of political maneuvering and speculation about who the President would choose to run DHS — the third largest federal department, with roughly 240,000 employees. Immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli was asked to fill the department’s deputy secretary role after the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that he was not eligible to succeed McAleenan in the top job.

“Unfortunately,” many senior leadership positions continue to “suffer from a lack of permanent, Presidentially Appointed and Senate confirmed officials,” wrote the watchdog.

As of September 21, “acting” officials filled almost one-third (18 of 58) of DHS senior leadership positions, according to the inspector general.

The department has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since Kirstjen Nielsen’s forced resignation in April.

“DHS and its roughly 240,000 employees work in an environment marked by high attrition, changing mandates, and difficulties implementing permanent plans, procedures, and programs,” wrote the inspector general.

The department has also had serious challenges with its response to the uptick to migrants arriving at the border, ensuring cybersecurity, proper planning and finances, and improving FEMA’s disaster response and recovery efforts.

“Firm leadership” is one of the needs to overcome and address these issues, according to the watchdog.

Lawmakers have also raised concerns about leadership at DHS.

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin urged Trump in a letter earlier this month to fill the vacancies at the department and address the absence of Senate-confirmed leadership.

“This widespread use of temporary leadership — individuals who, though perhaps qualified, do not serve with the imprimatur of having been confirmed by the Senate — makes it more difficult for the Department to achieve its long-term strategic objectives,” the senators wrote.

Johnson, charirman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, reiterated that call on the Senate floor last week, saying, “I fully expect to nominate a permanent secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.”

Last week, House committee chairs Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney also asked the Comptroller General of the United State to review the legality of the appointments of Wolf and Cuccinelli.

“This Administration has hollowed out Department leadership, with frequent leadership turnover and abuse of the authority to appoint temporary acting officials. These actions place our nation’s security at risk,” the committee chairs wrote.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report