The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) performs a critical role protecting the country. The mission is challenging, but just as difficult is working within the department itself. There are several reasons for this, some of which include how elected officials place political appointees within the department. Here is the second installment in my series about why DHS is a crappy place to work, published on Defense Media Network.

Part 2 – Political Appointees, the Congress, and the Department – Defense Media Network

Anything and everything a president says is quotable. For that matter anything an elected official says is quotable, but they also come with something else – a spoils system. Those are the perks and special practices that elected officials have at every level of government. From dog catcher to president, the person with one more vote than their leading opponent gets the right to make those decisions and decide how those perks are used and distributed, usually to their direct advantage. Nowhere is the practice of spoils more prevalent than in political appointments.

Elected officials want to place people who supported them in their respective campaigns in key positions within the government. They also want to have people in those positions who are like-minded ideologically and operationally so that they can advance the mission of their political patron and build a longer and more durable political presence for their political party. To do that, it helps to have people who know what they’re doing in specific programmatic areas. For as energetic, bright and sharp as many elected officials may be, there is no way they can know or execute programs and policies without the help of like-minded supporters who are willing to help them out. Those are the roles of the political appointees of this president and every political appointee of the administrations that held office before.

Political appointees are in many ways the “foot soldiers” that operate in the trenches of government. It is their job to make the programs and departments work to their utmost, not just for the good of the country and their fellow citizens but for the good things it can do for their boss when it comes time for an election.

Like its Cabinet and executive branch counterparts, DHS is just one of the places where you will find political appointees operating today. They are doing everything from being the secretary of the department to answering phones and mail in obscure and lesser-known offices within DHS’ components. Each of them serves at the pleasure of the president, which means they can be here today and gone tomorrow if someone senior enough in the administration would like for them to “get lost” and work someplace other than for the administration. They have few if any employment protections. Once a president’s term of office is done, so are they, and they need to move along as well. The only exception to these rules are those very few appointments such as federal judgeships (which are for life – unless they resign/retire or are removed from office through impeachment) and select positions like the FBI director, which is a 10-year term.

The number of political appointees at DHS is just a couple hundred of people, rather than the thousands that some conspiracy-minded folks may believe. Fortunately for all of us, the overwhelming majority of the government apparatus on the federal, state and local level is run by civil servants who are not hired based upon political patronage. They come to their positions through various hiring and promotional processes (good and bad). That does not mean politics is not involved. Politics is everywhere in professional life, and there’s no escaping that fact.

Read the full article.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More