DHS Faces Coronavirus With Scores of Vacancies and a Leadership Vacuum

Roughly two-thirds of top jobs in the department are vacant or filled with acting appointees, more than in any other federal agency.

Department of Homeland Security sign
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

As President Donald Trump imposes sweeping entry restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus — and considers still more — he's relying on an agency to help implement them that has been hollowed out at the top ranks in a revolving door of leadership, potentially hampering his administration's response to the crisis, NBC News reports.

It has been nearly a year since the Department of Homeland Security has had a Senate-confirmed leader. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, the fourth person to lead the agency in three years, has been on the job less than six months.

In addition, 65 percent of top jobs in the department are vacant or filled by acting appointees, more than in any other federal agency, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that advocates for more effective government. Among the vacancies are the No. 2 official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the department's top lawyer and the head of the country's immigration system.

People arriving to U.S. airports from abroad Saturday night reported waiting hours in line for required medical screenings amid the coronavirus outbreak.

That has led to a cascade of other unfilled jobs, a vacuum of leadership causing major decisions to be deferred and a drop in morale at the agency that was born out of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to coordinate the government's response to threats, said people close to DHS. After a chaotic rollout over the weekend of restrictions on many travelers from Europe — where those returning to the U.S. were held for hours in cramped conditions — there are new concerns that the agency isn't prepared to manage what's to come.

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