CHAOS

DHS Top Leaders ‘In Hiding,’ Staffers Say

As the Trump administration begins issuing executive orders on immigration, the Department of Homeland Security faces a skeletal leadership structure awash in paranoia.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Just one week into the Trump era, the Department of Homeland Security has turned into a ghost town, six department sources tell The Daily Beast.

The flurry of executive orders announced this week with little to no warning has left the agency scrambling to figure out what components and staffing will be needed to carry out those orders. This means senior staff who would otherwise be asked to leave may be kept on while the agency figures out how to respond to the inundation of executive orders from President Trump. It mirrors similar staffing issues at other cabinet departments as well as at the White House.

“Anybody in a position of power is not there, they’re all in hiding” said one DHS official.

“People are just freaking out and running for the hills.”

“People that got their jobs and promotion under the Obama administration are fearful. So, there’s lots of them in hiding while the rest of us await word from someone—I don’t even know who—about how to respond to the executive orders from Trump,” a department official confessed to The Daily Beast.

The exodus began last Friday when rumors swirled throughout divisions of possible announcements of acting under secretaries for the department would be announced on Monday. On Monday, the planned announcements were cancelled and seeds of doubt turned into full on paranoia.

“That’s when everybody started freaking out,” said another agency employee, describing the mood at headquarters. “A number of people were told they might be asked to leave but nobody really knows who that is or if they’re been told or if more of us will be axed.”

On Tuesday, contracts with non-permanent agency employees expired and there was a mass exodus of contractors.

By the time Trump spoke at DHS headquarters on Wednesday, the place had cleared out. The floor at headquarters housing staff for the division charged with infrastructure and cyber protection was nearly empty, as were other floors in other buildings on the sprawling DHS campus.

“There are usually more than 100 people on that floor. On Wednesday, there were 12,” said one DHS source. “It’s very, very, very quiet at headquarters.”

DHS employees who spoke to The Daily Beast said they were pleased with the selection of Trump’s new DHS secretary, Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who replaces Jeh Johnson, President Obama’s second department head after Janet Napolitano.

“The general seems to know what he’s stepping into and he’s not very happy and that’s why the people at HQ are looking for jobs already,” said an official. “I’d expect a major mass departure.”

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The new administration “is going after the money and they have found a lot of waste and abuse so I think heads are going to roll at the assistant and undersecretary levels.”

Another focus of the new DHS leadership is an overhaul of the agency’s intelligence division. “They know it’s a soup sandwich,” said one senior official.

In an email to agency employees today obtained by the Daily Beast, Secretary Kelly said, “President Trump honored us by signing two Executive Orders directly related to our homeland security and law enforcement missions, announcing them in the presence of your colleagues. These Executive Orders focus on border security, public safety, and enforcing the laws of our Nation.”

Late this week, a senior Customs and Border Patrol official, David J. Glawe, was brought in to run DHS’s main Intelligence and Analysis division. The move further suggests a renewed focus all-around on immigration issues.

On Wednesday, Trump spoke at DHS headquarters and promised agency employees a renewed mission and his commitment to allowing law enforcement to do its job. DHS has been ranked lowest in morale of all federal agencies in recent years, which many employees have said is because they’ve been blocked by senior political appointees from carrying out the mission statement of their agency.

More than a dozen DHS employees from a variety of agencies and divisions told The Daily Beast they were encouraged by Trump’s speech, and are hoping the agency will be purged of the Obama administration appointees and hires who were seen as unqualified or got in the way of law enforcement doing their jobs. About half of those employees, who range from senior-level officials to federal law enforcement agents working far outside Washington, said they voted for Trump.

Kelly’s memo today echoed those concerns, stressing, “Our Department has many missions, and our law enforcement mission is one of the most critical. These Presidential orders will bolster our law enforcement, security, and immigration enforcement officers in the execution of their important duties. They further demonstrate that protecting the American people is the highest priority of our government and this Department.”

“Everybody was very happy and excited about the Trump speech,” explained one midlevel official. “They feel invigorated and they feel like we’re back on track for mission but there’s a lot of fear because of the people who were put in power in the old administration did not allow us to do our mission, or so was felt by most of us”

For now, they’re just waiting for news of undersecretary appointments so they know if they will have a job.

“We have no idea if we have jobs on Monday but I guess we’ll show up and see what happens,” said one DHS employee last Friday. Today that same employee said they still have no idea. “It’s a day by day situation and I’m definitely scared to go to work but what else am I going to do.”