House Democrats and media reports have alleged that critical vacancies in Department of Homeland Security leadership threatens US security, especially during the presidential transition. A June 2, 2007 article in National Journal claimed that few career civil servants had been promoted to upper management in the DHS and thus the department was run largely by appointees whose positions were either vacant or who would be replaced in a new administration. The article echoed the conclusion of a July 2007 House report that as many as 24 percent of top positions in the department were vacant, ensuring difficulties in continuing critical homeland security operations during a transition to a new administration.

How is the Bush administration doing in filling DHS positions? Not bad, according to an analysis of presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed (PAS) positions.

As of November, 2008, the Bush administration has filled all of the department’s full time PAS positions. Four of these 18 positions are filled only on an acting basis, however, meaning that the Senate has not confirmed the appointees. Follow the DHS leadership here.

DHS leadership gaps go deeper than the top-level appointments, however. The role of the Senate in some appointed positions remains ambiguous following the Post-Katrina Reform Act. In particular, the Katrina reform legislation leaves the status of the Under Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis unclear. The Act also gives FEMA up to four additional PAS deputy administrator positions, with unspecified duties. The next administration, in consultation with Congress, may revisit the role of FEMA.

With two major reorganizations in 5 years, the DHS’s greatest problem may be figuring out the relationship of DHS headquarters to its often fiercely independent components. In addition, many of the department’s senior executive service (SES) positions remain unfilled. These men and women direct policy and implementation for agencies within the department. As of March 2008, a National Academy of Public Administration report shows that 139 of 775 SES positions are unfilled.

While the DHS has appointees in place to manage the transition, basic questions about the department’s mission and purposes remain. The Obama administration will have to take office with a plan for what the DHS headquarters should do, and who among appointees and careerists should do it.