The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified staff on Tuesday of how “pleased” it was to see its annual employee survey show an increase in engagement and morale — of just two percent, according to an internal ICE memo obtained by The Young Turks.
“DHS is taking a victory lap on the massive morale boost,” one DHS official told TYT sarcastically.
In a September 24 agency-wide email titled, “Message from Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey [FEVS] Results.” McAleenan beamed that DHS-wide participation was “slightly higher than last year” and that results for questions pertaining to engagement and morale increased from 60% to 62%. The Office of Personnel Management conducts the government-wide survey of employees annually.
McAleenan wrote to employees: “In addition to increased participation, I am pleased to announce that we continued to see positive FEVS score results for the fourth year in a row. Overall, the DGS Employee Engagement Index (EEI), a set of FEVS questions focusing on engagement and morale, increased from 60% to 62%.”
DHS officials have frequently raised concerns about employee morale in recent years, particularly within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE employee morale consistently ranks among the lowest of any federal sub-agency, according to past surveys. In 2017, ICE ranked 228th out of 339 departments.
While low employee morale has plagued ICE for a long time, President Trump’s hardline immigration policies have led to new problems. In June of 2018, the Washington Post reported that leaders of Homeland Security Investigations, ICE’s investigative division which does not focus on immigration enforcement, sent a letter to then-DHS Secretary Kristjen Nielsen urging her to separate them from ICE.
The letter, signed by the majority of the division’s special agents in charge, said that the politics of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) branch was hindering their ability to conduct investigations.
“The perception of HSI’s investigative independence is unnecessarily impacted by the political nature of ERO’s civil immigration enforcement,” the letter stated.
In November 2018, then-Acting Director of ICE Ronald D. Vitiello testified before the Senate that public criticism of immigration policy has led to morale issues among ICE employees.
ICE isn’t the only DHS sub-agency suffering from issues with morale. In August 2018, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Chief Carla Provost said that protests against ICE were having an adverse effect on CBP employees, as well.
"We have amazing people on the Border Patrol, and they are out risking their lives every day to protect this nation, and I’m extremely proud of the work that they do, but it’s a difficult time, I think, with what they see in the media," Provost remarked during an interview on Hill.tv.
In the email obtained by TYT, McAleenan touts the morale figures for both DHS and a couple of its sub-agencies, but not ICE or CBP.
“In our operational Components, the United States Secret Service increased seven percentage points, and the United States Coast Guard had the highest EEI of all components at 76%,” McAleenan wrote.