This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a segment examining the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that was generally positive about Secretary Jeh Johnson’s leadership of DHS, but also described the department as a “management nightmare.”  Validating this perception, a recent Government Accountability Office report maintained the Department of Homeland Security’s management functions on its High-Risk List – where it has been listed since shortly after DHS was established in 2003.   And the department continues to rank last among large federal agencies in terms of employee morale.

These management challenges are something that senior DHS leaders have been working to address since the department was created, making progress in some areas, such as financial management, where DHS has received a clean audit opinion for two straight years.  But addressing these challenges requires that a senior leader be in place, and Senate inaction is exacerbating the effort.  The president’s nominee to be Under Secretary of Management at the department, Russell Deyo, has now been pending on the Senate floor, awaiting a confirmation vote, for 112 days and counting. 


Obama originally announced Deyo’s nomination on August 28, 2014.  The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on Deyo’s nomination on September 17, 2014, and he was favorably reported to the Senate floor by a voice vote of the committee on November 12th, 2014. He was not confirmed on the floor prior to the conclusion of the 113th Congress, and was re-nominated in January and quickly re-reported to the Senate floor by the committee on January 22, 2015. 

Since early January, his nomination has sat unmoved on the Senate floor – a fact that is hard to understand, based both on the clear need for leadership on management issues at DHS and on Deyo’s strong professional record, including serving in the private sector as the General Counsel of Johnson & Johnson from 2004 to 2012.   

Deyo also notably received strong bipartisan support during his confirmation process.  At his confirmation hearing, former committee ranking member Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnNSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office Wasteful 'Endless Frontiers Act' won't counter China's rising influence MORE (R-Okla.) indicated that he was “impressed by the professional private sector experience that you would bring to the Undersecretary position.”  The leading Democrat on the committee, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office Rick Scott threatens to delay national security nominees until Biden visits border Senate panel unanimously advances key Biden cyber nominees MORE (Del.), has spoken strongly in favor of Deyo’s nomination.  Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff introduced Deyo at his confirmation hearing, stating “I could not give a stronger endorsement to Mr. Deyo for this position. I think if he’s confirmed, he will serve effectively and honorably.” 

In spite of these endorsements, and the support of the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Senate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday Jon Stewart: Coronavirus 'more than likely caused by science' MORE (R-Wis.), Deyo’s nomination remains stuck on the Senate floor, and the department’s management office remains without a Senate-confirmed leader – now for more than a year.  The reasons for this delay remain unclear, although situations such as this are typically the byproduct of “holds” by a small group of senators, or by a single senator.  The Senate leadership should work to clear any such holds, and failing this, should find floor time in the coming days to move this nomination forward to a vote, where Deyo would likely receive near-unanimous support.     

The Department of Homeland Security plays a critical role in protecting the nation as it carries out its priority missions, which include border security, counterterrorism, and cybersecurity.  Effective management can lead to improved performance of these missions – and a leaderless management office puts such improvements – and thus our nation’s security – at risk.  Today the Senate is taking unnecessary risks by letting such a strong nominee languish in limbo, a situation that it needs to prioritize when it returns to Washington, DC next week.

Beckner is the deputy director of the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security (CCHS) at the George Washington University.  From 2007 to 2012 he served on the professional staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, including as an associate staff director in 2011-2012.