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Homeland Security watchdog warns that a lack of permanent leadership damages the agency

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A lack of permanent leadership and a high turnover under the Trump government is damaging the third largest agency of the federal government, warned the inspector general of the Ministry of Homeland Security in a new report.

The agency's internal watchdog ranked leadership vacancies and recruitment difficulties as one of the most serious challenges facing the Home Security Department in the annual report. At the end of September & # 39; acting & # 39; officers nearly a third of the leadership positions, according to the report, that Congress needs to oversee the agency and its approximately 240,000 employees.

"Unfortunately, many of these senior leadership positions continue to suffer from a lack of permanent officials appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate," wrote the Inspector General. in the report released Monday.

More generally, according to the report, the working environment of the Ministry of Homeland Security is characterized by high turnover, changing mandates and difficulties in implementing permanent plans, procedures and programs.

Homeland Security, with a broad mission covering tasks as varied as counterterrorism and disaster relief, has achieved record sales under President Trump and alarming both the president's critics and his allies.

"Churning leadership at DHS is worrying," Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently told The Times.

Homeland Security rank and file – and in particular Customs and border protection, its main law enforcement department, including the border patrol – have long been struggling with retention. But the Inspector General suggested that those challenges were exacerbated by Trump's leadership.

"Since its inception, DHS has had problems ensuring that it can hire and retain highly qualified employees quickly," the report said. "This situation is exacerbated by changes and vacancies in senior leadership, which are often beyond DHS control."

In the first days, the administration issued an execution order imposing the hiring of 15,000 officers and agents. But almost three years later, the agency has spent millions on the effort and has not even met the minimum staffing levels set by Congress, let alone the required increase, according to the report. After ten months under one recruitment contract, Customs and Border Protection had paid $ 13.6 million to Accenture for the company to handle only two accepted job openings. After criticism from overseers, the contract was canceled.

The ongoing staffing problems are among the largest number of migrants arriving at the border in more than ten years, with more than 850,000 arrests. Although the number has recently declined, coordination gaps between the agencies have hampered effective response and monitoring, according to the Inspector General's report.

The Inspector General also noted that there is still a lack of procedures to deal with employee misconduct. At least 70 current and former customs and border protection staff were investigated in July as part of an administrative investigation into a secret Facebook group, first reported by ProPublica. In the group, members used dehumanizing and denigrating language against Latina members of Congress and deceased migrants.

Approaching the 2020 presidential election, the Inspector General said that the department in charge of protecting the country's election infrastructure has not completed any plans to identify and respond to new threats, despite federal requirements to to do this. The report specifically mentioned "senior leadership revenue and a lack of guidance" as obstacles.

Trump said he did likes to hold officials in "acting" positions instead of appointing them to permanently fill in messages and face the Senate confirmation process, believing it offers him more flexibility.

But especially with Homeland Security – an agency at the heart of Trump's primary political agenda for limiting immigration – the administration has begun to reach the limits of federal law and, according to the Inspector General's report, functionality .

Internal Security Acting Chief Kevin McAleenan recently stepped down after six months, despite being never formally appointed.

Just before his departure, McAleenan called Chad Wolf, a close assistant to McAleenan's predecessor, for a sub-secretary role. After the Senate confirmed Wolf for that position on Wednesday, Trump named him his next acting secretary.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, was ticked like Wolf & # 39; s No. 2. That movement was generally seen as positioning Cuccinelli, an immigration hardliner, to take over the top post.

Trump his own ministry of justice said he could not choose Cuccinelli to lead the department because of the Federal Vacancies Act. The law generally prescribes that succession to government agencies must follow seniority among officials confirmed by the Senate, and limits the role of "actor."

Moreover, legislators ask an emergency assessment whether McAleenan's tenure has violated a federal statue, calling into question both Wolf and Cuccinelli's selections.

When Trump finally appoints Cuccinelli as Homeland Security Secretary, republican senators who once tried to deprive Cuccinelli made it clear that he would face a stiff opposition.

"He has some history," said Cornyn. "Memories have been here a long time."

For his part, Cuccinelli said during a recent breakfast in the media before the publication of the report that permanent leadership vacancies at Homeland Security do not adversely affect the agency.

"I really don't think it hurts," he said.

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