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Posted at 9:35 PM ET, 09/29/2010

Backchannel Chatter: DHS badges don’t get no respect

By Jeff Stein

More than seven years after 22 agencies were squished together to create the Department of Homeland Security, togetherness remains a dream.

Take security badges. Early last year a study showed that most agencies had just begun to implement Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which required government agencies to adopt standardized ID cards. The deadline was Oct. 27, 2009.

It’s still a mish-mash almost a year later, a number of DHS headquarters employees have been telling SpyTalk in recent months. Despite officials' constant incantation of "One DHS," personnel frequently find themselves tapping their feet at the entrances of such department components as TSA, ICE, Customs and Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and Secret Service as security guards check and re-check their IDs against their individual databases.

Like the late Rodney Dangerfield, DHS badges don't get no respect -- or not enough, anyway.

“Theoretically, it’s one big system,” a headquarters employee said Wednesday with a rueful chuckle, “but just theoretically.”

“Sometimes you’re in the system, sometimes you’re not,” he added on condition of anonymity, because talking about security problems could land him in hot water. “But it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, more often that it does.”

Other DHS headquarters personnel have confided much the same over the months, describing time-consuming waits at agency entrances as computers and databases are consulted. Oftentimes they end up being “paroled” into the building with an escort.

The bulk of the blame lies with the difficulty of integrating all those DHS agencies into one big happy family.

But “some of it boils down the knuckleheads they have running security” in the disparate agencies, said the headquarters employee. Then again, he quickly added, the Federal Protective Service, which supplies security personnel to all the agencies, is also chronically under-funded.

It’s even tougher, meanwhile, for DHS headquarters personnel to visit the FBI, CIA, or other intelligence agencies that don’t even theoretically honor DHS badges, he and others say: Wait, and wait again, to be cleared for a visitor badge.

"It's not as though they don't honor our badge," the DHS headquarters employee said. "It's just that they all have their individual security procedures, which sometimes take longer than one would expect to verify our clearance, identity and the need to access their facility."

DHS officials are defensive about such criticism, which arrives with the regularity of the seasons.

“There are 40-plus DHS facilities scattered around the Washington area,” said one.

“It’s one reason we’re consolidating our headquarters” in Anacostia, she added, at the site of the historic St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

And as DHS officials regularly point out, it took the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines a half century to get their war fighting forces in harness.

By Jeff Stein  | September 29, 2010; 9:35 PM ET
Categories:  Backchannel chatter, Homeland Security, Intelligence  
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DHS is badly mismanaged and the security issue is just the tip of the iceberg. Bad leadership = bad morale = holes in our security.

Posted by: commentator3 | September 30, 2010 6:34 AM | Report abuse

Things will get better once we get to "Shutter Island".

Posted by: eGREGie | September 30, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Its not just the bazdges that get no respect, its the people, too. Like any new Department formed by intra-government transfers, they get the dregs and rejects. And with a combination of lack of and/or bad senior management,separate princes get to play.
Does anyone think this is a Department with long-term prospects? It is easier breaking up if you have never integrated in the first place.

Posted by: DCNative41 | September 30, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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