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DHS Management: Still high-risk, still leaderless

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The Government Accountability Office released its biennial High-Risk List report yesterday, and the issue of “Strengthening Department of Homeland Security Management Functions” carried over on the High-Risk List from the 2013 report, although GAO found that the Department had made progress in the last two years. The 2013 report indicated that DHS had “fully” or “mostly” addressed only 8 out of 31 key actions or outcomes prescribed by the GAO. In this new report, two years later, DHS has fully or mostly addressed 14 out of 30 actions or outcomes. But overall, GAO found that “DHS continues to face significant management challenges that hinder the department’s ability to meet its missions.”

Unfortunately, the Department’s management challenges are exacerbated by three months of Senate inaction on the President’s nominee to be Under Secretary for Management at DHS, Russell Deyo. Deyo was announced by the White House as a nominee for the position in August 2014. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on Deyo’s nomination on September 17, 2014, and he was favorably reported to the floor by a voice vote of the Committee on November 12th, 2014. He was not confirmed on the floor prior to the conclusion of the 113th Congress, and was renominated in January and quickly re-reported to the floor by the Committee on January 22, 2015.

Thus, it has now been three months since he was first reported to the floor, but for some reason his nomination remains in limbo. By all accounts, Deyo has an impressive record and strong bipartisan support, and is deserving of confirmation. He has a strong private sector background, including serving as General Counsel of Johnson & Johnson from 2004 to 2012. As former Senator Tom Coburn noted in his opening statement at Deyo’s confirmation hearing:

For Mr. Deyo, bringing strong and effective leadership to the Under Secretary for Management position will be key to the success of Secretary Johnson’s management and “Unity of Effort” initiative.

Having reviewed your biography, I am impressed by the professional, private sector experience that you would bring to the Undersecretary position.

And as former DHS Secretary Chertoff noted, when he introduced him at the confirmation hearing:

I could not give a stronger endorsement to Mr. Deyo for this position. I think if he’s confirmed, he will serve effectively and honorably.

In spite of these endorsements, it remains unclear when Deyo will finally be confirmed, even though (based on his record) he presumably could be confirmed by a voice vote or a unanimous consent agreement. Perhaps the current delay is a byproduct of the broader conflict in Congress right now over DHS appropriations. But regardless of the status of this situation, hopefully the Senate leadership will move forward soon to confirm Deyo, so that he can begin serving, tackle the critical management challenges facing the Department that the GAO has identified, and work to get DHS management dropped from the high-risk list by the time of the next report, in early 2017.