Almost Everyone at DHS Is an ‘Essential’ Employee

If funding runs out for the Department of Homeland Security later this month, it’s unlikely that most Americans will notice any difference. Nearly 200,000 of DHS’s estimated 231,117 civilian and military employees were deemed “essential” and continued working during the 2013 government shutdown, according to the Congressional Research Service. Such “essential” employees — those deemed responsible for saving lives and protecting property – would remain in place again if DHS’s funding ran out this time around, as NRO has previously noted.

But such facts have not stopped DHS secretary Jeh Johnson from describing the impact of a shutdown on his department as catastrophic. In December, Johnson warned the House Homeland Security Committee that he would not be able to “engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions.” Since that time, Johnson told CNN on Monday, he is on Capitol Hill “virtually every working day” sounding the alarm.

“Let’s not forget that the Department of Homeland Security interfaces with the American public more than any other department of our government,” Johnson said. “[A lack of funding] means furloughing at least 30,000 of our department and cutting back very significantly on our operations to pursue homeland security.” 

What Johnson neglected to mention was that if the department actually needed any of those 30,000 non-essential employees during a shutdown, it could recall them immediately in emergency situations.

Moreover, the department has not associated the number of non-essential employees — who account for approximately 13 percent of DHS’s total workforce — with specific programs of the federal government. It has only said that the loss of these employees would harm various “activities,” such as civil rights and civil liberties training for law enforcement, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center activities, and other research and development efforts.

The federal government furloughed slightly more than 1,000 Federal Law Enforcement Training Center Employees, accounting for approximately 94 percent of that agency’s total workforce, during the governmental shutdown of 2013. Asked how her agency is preparing for another potential work stoppage, FLETCE spokeswoman Christa Thompson tells NRO, “I can’t answer those questions yet…we get guidance from the main Department of Homeland Security, but it hasn’t trickled down to us yet.” If Johnson and DHS are so concerned about losing funding and furloughing workers, why would the department fail to communicate with its employees about its contingency plans?

Some have suggested that DHS, which opened for business nearly 12 years ago, need not exist at all. Andrew C. McCarthy writes over on the homepage that the only reason DHS exists now is because the federal government needed to be seen as “doing something” in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Rush Limbaugh echoed this sentiment on his radio show on Monday, questioning the value of the department, and arguing that it continues to grow needlessly.

Perhaps DHS secretary Johnson and company are more concerned about keeping their own jobs than ensuring that their underlings do not temporarily lose theirs. 

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