Govexec.com reports that former officials and national security experts are warning of a crisis in national security come the 2009 transition in administrations. The concern is because the Bush administration has so heavily stacked DHS with political appointees that they "run the first- and second-tier layers across almost all of the Department of Homeland Security's units." DHS has more political appointees (360) in such positions than the 2 largest of government departments--Defense Department which has 283 and Veterans Affairs with only 64. Experts believe there will be a lack of career officials to keep the department running as Bush's appointees leave and a new president selects a new team. They also note government transitions as having been a time of particular vulnerabilty to terrorist attacks in the past.
January 2009 has current and former officials particularly worried, because it marks the first time since 9/11 that the reins of national and domestic security will be handed off to a completely new team. At the Pentagon, this changeover doesn't matter as much. It has an entire joint staff of senior military officers who oversee worldwide operations, as well as regional military commands whose senior leadership stays in place. The Homeland Security Department, however, is another story. It is still run almost entirely by political appointees and stands to be the most weakened during the transition.
"Any of the other main Cabinet departments have civil servants that step in" as acting officials during a transition, says Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a leading expert on the department and its history. "Homeland Security doesn't have any of those.... And that's extremely unusual."
In the four and a half years since the department opened for business, few career officials have been promoted into positions of senior or even middle management. As a result, most of the responsibility for running the department, and its plethora of critical missions, is still in the hands of people who will be walking out the door as the Bush administration wanes or leaves en masse after the election. "The department virtually has no backbench," Flynn says.
Former officials and experts are alarmed that so few Bush administration officials or lawmakers of either party have fully grasped this, and they worry that come Inauguration Day, national security could suffer. [....] Some officials and homeland-security experts say that the Bush administration -- and even the presidential candidates -- should take action now to avoid a crisis.
"Political by Design"
The article goes on to lay out how this is "almost entirely of its own [DHS] and the White House's making" by having made DHS "political by design." To get DHS up and running quickly the White House and first DHS secretary Tom Ridge "largely handpicked their leadership team from the ranks of Bush loyalists." Experts accept haste dictated these moves but say "that the trend toward political appointees never subsided" especially during the leadership period, of Ridge's successor Michael Chertoff, in which appointments have been based on personal connections and imposing political litmus tests....
"Early on, there was a sense that the administration wanted mostly political people," [Randy] Beardsworth [former DHS assistant secretary for strategic plans] says. "They were very much concerned about loyalty and shaping the department where they wanted it to go." He says he always believed that his boss, Asa Hutchinson, the first undersecretary for border and transportation security, as well as Ridge "had the good of the country at heart.... I never had the feeling that we were making partisan decisions."
But after the 2004 election, when Bush announced that he "earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," things changed. Under the new DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff, former officials say that the tone and tenor of political appointments took a turn. Personal connections and political fealty became litmus tests, these ex-officials say. Faithfully shepherding administration policy was to be expected, but the department's leaders seemed more beholden to individuals with close ties to the White House.
Of all the departments in the government, Homeland Security has the most notorious reputation for placing political appointees in jobs over their heads. In fact, even before the bungled response to Katrina, critics warned that the department could be come a haven for patronage if officials didn't work hard to beef up DHS's career ranks.
Indeed, Homeland Security has earned a reputation as a political dumping ground, a sort of Land of Misfit Toys, where GOP fundraisers or apparatchiks are sent to pad their resumes or to cool their heels. There is more than a little truth to this -- the department does have a lot of political appointees whose main strength seems to be loyalty to Bush and connections to the White House.
Some of the more notable "Misfit Toys" cited were.....
- Julie Myers--niece of Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at time of her appointment, also married to John Wood, who was Chertoff's chief of staff and an ex-aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Myers is a "36-year-old lawyer with little management experience" but was given a recess appointment by Bush to the job of assistant secretary in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.
- Douglas Hoelscher--former White House staffer and Republican campaign aide who at 28 years old became executive director of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee. Hoelscher seems to be Goodlingesque--He had "no management experience, but had apparently proven himself as a Bush campaign staffer [...] At the time of his appointment, he was the department's liaison to the White House, where, in the words of a Homeland Security spokeswoman, he "made sure [that political appointees] were all placed in the office where they were happiest and ... fit best.""
- Philip Perry--now DHS ex-general counsel. He is Cheney's son-in-law. In his former position Perry had stymied the GAO's efforts to gain DHS documents.
There is "virtually no playbook for transition" but Michael Jackson, Homeland Security's deputy secretary, says he has begun working on the problem. One solution which Jackson is "prepared to advise" is that the next president keep on the present DHS leaders. The article lists a few other possible solutions. However Randy Beardsworth, says....
"Does the department have the right political and career mix to ensure a smooth transition?" he asks, sounding like a frustrated yet hopeful parent. "No. They've likely missed that opportunity."