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Date:  Sept. 12, 2013

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

New IOM Report Provides Guidance for Improving Resilience of DHS Work Force

 

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security should develop and promote a unified strategy and common vision to build and sustain work-force readiness and resilience across the entire agency, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.  DHS expressed concern that it was not reaching the level of impact that it had hoped to achieve with its program to build resilience at the agency and asked the IOM to review its efforts, identify shortcomings, and provide recommendations for a five-year strategic plan.

 

"We commend DHS for recognizing the importance of its work force in achieving the DHS mission and for requesting advice," said James Peake, chair of the committee that wrote the report and senior vice president of CGI Global Health in Austin, Texas.  "However, there is work to be done to improve the readiness and resilience of the DHS work force, which will be a large undertaking and require input from and coordination among every facet of the agency."

 

The committee recommended that the "work-force readiness and resilience" effort employ a holistic approach that includes attention to physical, mental, and emotional health; organizational culture; and the work and home environments.  The nature of the DHS work environment is inherently stressful, and responsibilities can weigh heavily on DHS employees at every level of the organization, the report says.  If the work force is not ready to perform its mission and resilient enough to respond to and bounce back from crises and everyday stressors, it can compromise the DHS mission.  Therefore, DHS needs a work force that is healthy -- both physically and mentally, has high morale, is adaptable, finds purpose in its work, and is productive and engaged.

 

As part of its task, the committee was asked to examine DHSTogether, a headquarters-based program started in 2009 that focuses on building resilience and wellness in the agency.  The committee found that since the program's inception, it has not achieved its intended purpose due to lack of consistent leadership support, the absence of a strategic plan, and a lack of needed authority and accountability.  In addition, the program does not have a clear vision, mission statement, specific goals, measurable objectives, or a working definition for work-force "resilience."  Because DHS does not use a validated measure of resilience, the committee could not be certain whether the DHS work force has a resilience deficit, but it noted that the work force has demonstrated a high level of resilience by executing its duties admirably in the face of numerous organizational and morale challenges.  DHS has used the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) as a surrogate for measuring resilience, and the survey's data have demonstrated issues with morale, engagement, and leadership at DHS -- all of which may affect work-force resilience.  However, it has not been tested or proved whether the FEVS data are a surrogate for resilience. 

 

To improve resilience efforts in DHS, the committee recommended that the agency adopt, commit to, and promote a unified strategy to build and sustain work-force readiness and resilience departmentwide.  DHS needs more than a simple program; it needs an overarching effort that is embedded in the culture of DHS, the report says.  The committee recognized that this task is not a quick fix, but a long-term, sustained effort.  To accomplish this, the agency should centralize strategic direction and resource investments, identify core best practices, create overarching policies, and develop measures of effectiveness from the departmental level.  However, due to the varied needs of the DHS work force, it is crucial to obtain input from each component agency within the organization -- from those working on the frontlines to those in top leadership positions.  The work-force readiness and resilience efforts need to have unified policies, but should also be flexible to meet the individual needs of its varied work force.

 

The roles and responsibilities for the work-force readiness and resilience effort should be clarified and expanded, the committee said.  It recommended that the DHS secretary review these and make any needed changes to ensure the effort's success, including asking the operational components and headquarters offices for input, feedback, coordination, and development of programmatic content.

 

In addition, the committee stressed that a strong leadership is essential for building and sustaining a ready and resilient work force.  A leadership development program should be established for all levels of management throughout the agency.  The program should include mentorship, sponsorship, and objective mechanisms for identifying high-potential employees, creation of leadership opportunities, and evidence-informed measurement of leadership performance. 

 

The committee also recommended improving organizational communication by developing a communications strategy to build and promote an organizational identity that increases a sense of pride in the agency, enhances commitment to its mission, and moves toward a culture of readiness and resilience.  The strategy should encourage bottom-up communication that ensures frontline input into decision making and idea generation.

 

In addition, DHS should implement a five-year strategic plan to establish a systematic agencywide approach to the report's recommendations.  The committee recommended DHS develop an ongoing measurement and evaluation process to support planning, assessment, execution, and evaluation of the long-term strategic plan.  If the strategic plan is embraced and implemented, the committee envisions that DHS will be regarded as one of the most desirable places to work in the federal government at its 20th anniversary in 2023.

 

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  A committee roster follows.

 

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Pre-publication copies of A Ready and Resilient Workforce for the Department of Homeland Security are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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