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Department of Homeland Security -
The First Months

A TRAC Special Report
August 25, 2003

The primary mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is nothing less than "the protection of the American people." Given the state of the world, the size of the United States and the agency's obligation to function within the rule of law this central responsibility -- spelled out in the department's first annual budget -- is obviously a very real challenge.

In attempting to achieve this mission, the department now employs over 160,000 men and women. About 90 percent of full-time employees are concentrated at work stations in just 166 of the nation's 3,146 counties. But one in five counties has a full-time DHS employee. [See map and table.] And where federal payrolls are distributed is determined by where federal employees work.

Presented here is the first in a series of special TRAC reports about the DHS. Because the department is so very young, detailed records about its day-to-day activities are only now beginning to come in. But what an agency like the DHS will accomplish tomorrow is mostly determined by the people it has brought on board today. Thus, presented here is unique, comprehensive and timely information about the staff of DHS.

The report looks at DHS employees from five different perspectives: which agency within DHS do they work for, what are their occupations, how much are they paid and where are they based. Finally, information is displayed concerning the staffing changes that occurred between September 11, 2001 and March 31, 2003.

The Challenge

Hostile foreign forces, possibly armed with weapons of mass destruction, could launch secret attacks across the 7,500 miles of this country's land borders, the 12,000 miles of its coastline or through literally thousands of seaports and airports. Intricate and vulnerable communication networks, natural gas pipelines, and electrical power grids all present further targets of possible interest. And for what ever cause, the fragile nature of the U.S. economy was dramatically illustrated by the massive power failure that very recently left millions of people in the Northeast, the Midwest and Canada without electricity . It further must be recalled that as was made clear by the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, not all terrorists of concern must cross the borders of the United States to do their business.

Cataloguing the multitude of potential threats and then making clear-headed decisions about which ones must be dealt with immediately and which ones should be dealt with later is a truly difficult job. And because the United States is a representative democracy, the setting of all these important priorities properly becomes a matter of political debate.

From day one the Department has indeed been a subject of dispute. Some -- like Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, Howard Dean and John Edwards -- argue that given the threat the Bush Administration's effort is seriously under funded and understaffed. Others -- like Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham -- have suggested that an expanded domestic intelligence collection agency must be considered.

Senators Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, see other problems. Early on, they expressed concern that the law authorizing its operation undermined Congress' traditional authority to hold the executive branch accountable and subverted long-existing laws designed to protect agency whistle blowers.

Yet another special concern is a provision of the DHS law exempting certain information collected by the department from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. On March 12, for example, five senators joined in introducing legislation they said would restore the public's "right to know" while simultaneously contributing to America's security.

As the Bush Administration tries to balance the voracious fiscal demands of DHS against those of the Defense Department and other government agencies, the normal push and pull continues with Senator Charles Schumer, other Democrats and even Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, attacking an administration plan to cut back on funding for the air marshal program. As a result of the criticism, the plan was almost immediately abandoned.

Despite all the doubts and conflicting opinions, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pushed ahead and last November Congress approved the sweeping DHS legislation. (The establishment of this new structure was said to involve the most massive re-organization of the federal government since the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency were set up more than fifty years before.) Then, on March 1, 2003, the agency formally came into existence as one of the nation's 15 cabinet-level departments.

Given the troubled state of the world, and the core mission of the DHS, public interest in the department naturally remains high. Nurturing this interest of course was the luxurious pre 9/11 assumption that the relative remoteness of the U.S. from the rest of the world meant that such bombings could not occur here. Now, with that faith shaken, the question of what this agency is doing and how well it is doing it has become a central concern for many if not most Americans.

The Big Picture

As of March 2003, one in every twelve workers in the federal government -- a total of 160,201 -- was on the DHS payroll. [See graph and table.]

Although the Department of Homeland Security is large, it is not the largest cabinet level agency. Currently bigger than the DHS are the Department of Defense with 654,990 non-uniformed employees and the Department of Veteran Affairs with 225,000. See graph. (Until the Treasury Department lost three of its of its major units in the recent government-wide reorganization, it ranked as the government's third largest department.) Other departments in the same 100,000-employee range as DHS are the Agriculture Department, the Department of Justice and the now somewhat reduced Treasury Department. For a short time before the newly created Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was transferred to DHS, the Transportation Department also had over 100,000 employees.

The DHS, of course, is a totally new federal structure. But most of the people now working under Homeland Security Secretary Ridge are old hands. In fact, virtually all of DHS's 160,000 employees already were on the federal payroll in other departments when on March 1 of this year their agencies were transferred to DHS. According to an internal report by the Office of Personnel Management, the transfers included:

  • the Transportation Security Administration (66,998 employees),
  • the Immigration and Naturalization Service (35,761 employees),
  • the Customs Service (21,601 employees),
  • the Federal Emergency Management Agency (8,292 employees),
  • the U.S. Coast Guard (6,171 civilian employees), and
  • the Secret Service (5,929 employees).

A sizeable number of employees were also drawn from three other federal agencies: the Office of the Secretary of HHS (5,826), the Import & Entry Inspection functions of the Animal Plant and Health Inspections Service of the Department of Agriculture (2,160 employees), and the Federal Protective Service (for public buildings) of the General Services Administration (1,175 employees). The balance of DHS employees came from more than a dozen other smaller federal offices.

Other than the move to DHS, re-organization within the agencies so far appears to be modest or non-existent. [See chart.] At the extreme, for example, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Coast Guard have been left as separate freestanding bureaus without even a name change.

On the department's organizational chart most DHS employees are now organized into five directorates -- (1) Border and Transportation Security (BTS), (2) Emergency Preparedness and Response, (3) Science and Technology, (4) Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, and (5) Management. The extent to which these directorates are actually functioning, however, is not clear. As of March 31, for example, the last four of the department directorates listed above only contained 9% of DHS's staff. On the other hand the BTS the first of the five directorates contained somewhat more than 80% of the department's employees. Furthermore, despite the name changes, the units grouped within the BTS largely correspond with the three largest agencies that were transferred to DHS at the time of its creation. These were:

  • TSA: Transportation Security Administration (same name as before)
  • CBP: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (largely the old Customs Service)
  • ICE: Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (largely the former INS)[1]

Despite their new location within the new Department of Homeland Security, many of the agencies transferred to it have retained their original responsibilities. While the president's FY 2004 budget for the DHS asked for a total of $36.2 billion, only $24 billion of the request actually was earmarked for homeland security purposes. The balance, one third of the total, was reserved for traditional tasks that have now been taken on by the department. For example, even while the Coast Guard gears up to detect terrorists, it still must perform its traditional search and rescue missions. Similarly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Customs, the INS and the Secret Service have all been asked to continue carrying out their old duties while gearing up for the new ones. And it remains to be seen how well the important missions originally assigned these agencies will be handled within the confines of a department established with the single-minded objective of defending the homeland from terrorism.

DHS Priorities - By Occupation

What any agency does is determined by the occupations of its workers While government records list more than 300 different occupational specialties within the DHS, eight out of ten of the department's full-time employees are classified under only eight occupational titles.[2] Significantly, the employees in these eight positions are all engaged as various kinds of "watchers" or investigators. See graph.

Topping the list are airport screeners, a group the DHS categorizes as "safety technicians." See graph. Four out of every ten full-time DHS employees (40.3%) are employed to screen passengers and baggage at American airports. [See table.]

This single federal position, which did not exist a year and a half ago, is now dominant in the DHS. The data further show that fully half of DHS's watchers and investigators are focused on just 430 locations (airports) throughout the United States. [See TRAC Spotlight.] This leaves the other half of DHS watchers with a great deal of ground to cover. While there are about six times more airport screeners than border patrol guards, for example, the borders patrol guards are responsible for 7,500 miles of U.S. land borders. The number of customs inspectors who examine the freight and luggage coming into the United States at the nation's airports, seaports and land border crossings raise the same kind of question about DHS priorities. In this comparison, the occupation data show there currently are seven times more airport screeners than customs inspectors. [See previous table.]

The department also classified 8,997 of its full-time employees as criminal investigators and 641 as intelligence officers. Considered together, this group of 9,638 specialists obviously represents a slightly different kind of "watcher." (By comparison, the FBI -- entirely separate from the DHS had a total of 11,408 special agents and 1,039 intelligence agents as of March of 2003. While having the lead responsibility for investigating terrorists, the FBI also pursues traditional law breakers -- bank robbers, white collar criminals, corrupt public officials, etc.)

In addition to its screeners, inspectors and investigators, the DHS employs a wide range of support staff on either a full or part-time basis. Among them are 324 funeral directors, 128 pharmacists, 55 general anthropologist, 41 fingerprint specialists and 30 chaplains. (All of these specialties, except for the fingerprint experts, are exclusively found in DHS's Emergency Preparedness Directorate.)

The average compensation for these particular occupations is extremely varied. [See table.] At the top of the pay scale, for full-time employees, are the administrative law judges who on average earn $135,994 a year. The average salary for criminal investigators working for the DHS is $68,673, about half that paid to the judges. And for those "safety technicians" asking airline passengers to remove their shoes and examining their luggage, the average is $29,195.

Where Do They Work?

Not surprisingly, DHS employees are not equally distributed around the United States. A map of the United States displaying department employees by county shows a heavy ring around the nation's borders, with just a scattering in the interior. In concrete terms, as mentioned above, DHS full-time employees currently are based at work stations located in 625 of the nation's 3,146 counties. One perspective on this is that while the majority of American people live in counties located in the interior, nearly two-thirds of DHS employees are found in counties on the immediate border of the country.[See table.] Another perspective emerges from the fact that only one out of every seven counties in the U.S. is located along the country's border.

The map graphically portrays the judgment of the DHS that guarding the nation's major airports and its borders is the department's top priority. Communities with international airports (many at the nation's borders such as Kennedy, O'Hare, LAX, and Miami), land-border crossings, and seaports now have the lion's share of DHS's employees. This heavy focus on the airports and borders may be correct. But as the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and mailing of deadly anthrax spores have demonstrated, airports and borders are not the only places where homeland security can be challenged.

Many factors go into how an agency distributes its work force around the nation, some of them not directly related to terrorism. Secretary Ridge and his top strategist must confront real as well as perceived problems. And almost always, political pressures -- often spelled out in law -- will impact on where people get hired.

Here is one example. Although DHS staff is highly concentrated along the nation's borders, the distribution of employees along them is far from even. As TRAC reported last year (see report), for a variety of historical and political reasons, most of the nation's border guards were stationed along the country's Southwest border and very few along the much longer northern border with Canada. One year later, more recent figures show that this situation has hardly changed with 7,815 border guards stationed along the border with Mexico and only 515 assigned to the northern borders with Canada. See table. [3]

A second example, drawn from the latest federal staffing figures concerns Alaska where not a single border patrol guard has been posted along that state's border with Canada. This is true despite some possible strategic terrorism targets in Alaska. See earlier table.

Another unusual detail about the current distribution of DHS staff is that relatively few are stationed in Washington D.C. or its immediately surrounding counties. When all agencies of the federal government are considered, fully 16 percent of all civilian employees are stationed in the DC metro area. For the DHS the figure is only 8.6 percent. (Because DHS is still filling many of its headquarters slots, it seems likely that the contrast between the department and other agencies will diminish.)

In fairness to the DHS, it should be emphasized that the current distribution of its employees is largely based on agency decisions made before the department came into existence. That said, however, it remains to be seen whether in the years ahead the DHS can develop a better method for making its deployment decisions and whether it then can implement them on the ground.

Examined by state and nation, the data show that full-time DHS employees are working in 50 states, the District of Columbia and 49 foreign countries including obvious ones like Canada with 384 DHS employees, the Bahamas with 64, and Mexico with 32. Less obvious is the location of two DHS staffers in Cuba and one in Vietnam. See table.

Major international airports are located within the boundaries of most of the ten counties with the largest number of full-time DHS employees, among them Los Angeles (6,318), Dade County (Miami) (5,001), Cook County (Chicago) (4,576), and Queens County (New York) (4,533). [See table.] Two obvious exceptions are the District of Columbia, the location for DHS headquarters, and San Diego which ranks high primarily because it is located directly on the Southwest border.

Counties that have a high number of DHS employees but are not the home base for a major airport show a different pattern. Here the determining characteristic was the location of the county along the Southwest border. In terms of full-time DHS staff, once the Transportation Security Administration employees are excluded, among the top counties were San Diego County, El Paso County in Texas, Webb County (Laredo) in Texas, Cameron County (Brownsville) in Texas, and Imperial County (Calexico) in California. [See earlier table.]

The county-by-county location of DHS employees clearly can have a real impact on an area's economy. For the District of Columbia, for example, where the largest numbers of DHS employees are based, full-time salaries come to $757 million a year. Full-time salaries in Los Angeles County come to $266 million. The next two counties with the largest full-time DHS payroll are Miami - Dade County with $219 million and San Diego County with $214 million. [See TRAC Spotlight.]

After 9/11/01

In the period since the 9/11 attacks, the total number of civilian employees working for the federal government sharply increased -- by 4.5%. Almost all of this recent increase can be attributed to the government's response to the events of 9/11, specifically the hiring of 69,266 employees by the Transportation Safety Administration. Without that component, federal workers would only have increased by about half of one per cent. (The substantial post 9/11 jump continued a longer trend, the slow and somewhat surprising increase in civilian employees that began when President Bush came to office. The gradual and then rapid growth chalked up during the Bush years marks a sharp break with the employment trends of the Clinton administration when federal civilian employment declined each year from 1993 through 2000. [See graph and table.]

The explosive staff expansion within the TSA from zero to 69,266 -- was of course not matched in any of the already existing government agencies that were placed under the DHS umbrella. Among these agencies, the INS increased to 35,761 in March 2003 from 33,391 in September of 2001, a 7.1 percent increase. During the same period, Customs increased by 4.4 %, the Secret Service by 2.8%, in the Coast Guard by 2.2%, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency decreased by 1.1%. [See table.] Recently, under heavy budget pressure, TSA started cutting back its staff.

The occupations that now dominate DHS staff experienced vastly different growth rates after 9/11. [See table.]

The dramatic increase in the new classification of airport screeners was of course unique. But there were other DHS occupations which have seen substantial growth. The ranks of general inspectors (Series 1801) more than doubled from 6,116 full-time members in September 2002 to 13,428 by March of 2003, while immigration inspectors jumped by nearly one-third. The largest segment of the increase of general inspectors was directed to counties in the interior and along the seaboard -- particularly those with large cities and airports.

The growth in immigration inspectors was widely spread around the United States. But the growth rate along the northern border was higher than in the south. The growth in customs inspectors, while more a more modest 12.5 percent, was joined by net reductions in staffing along the southern border to shore up staffing along the northern border with Canada.

The slowest growing occupation in the last few years only showing a 4 percent increase were border patrol agents. But this position had more than doubled in staffing size during the Clinton years a growth virtually all directed to a buildup along the southwest border with Mexico. Even with 9/11 the Southwest did not loose any of his border patrol agents. Indeed it gained a few. Only about half of the small increase after 9/11 was directed to augmenting staff along the northern border, with the remainder spread in other parts of the country.


Most experts agree that terrorism will not be easily dealt with. This is mostly because around the world there are a large number of people who believe that a terrorist act -- even if it results in their own death -- is the only way they can express their grievances. A second reality is that because of recent technological changes a single act can now wreak vastly more havoc than was possible only a few years ago.

On June 28, 1914, for example, a single assassin standing on a sidewalk in Sarajevo fired his pistol at visiting royalty. Although this attack is now credited with setting up the situation that led to the catastrophe of the First World War, the immediate victims numbered only two, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Eight decades later, on April 19, 1995 an angry young man named Timothy McVeigh set off a truck bomb near the federal building in Oklahoma City. It caused the death of 168 men, women, and children.

We now are a bit less than two years away from the events of 9/11/01. And the Department of Homeland Security is still only an enfant, albeit a very large one. This report focused on the DHS first months, who has been hired, where they have been deployed, what they have been asked to do. Only through the passage of time will the American people be able to see whether in taking these first steps the nation has headed in the right direction.

Related Links:
| Special Advisory | TRAC Spotlight on Homeland Security | About the Data |

[1] The adjudication and benefits programs of the INS were supposed to be transferred to a separate free standing "Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services" within Homeland Security. This unit has yet to show up on the official personnel rolls.

[2] The eight specialties are, by federal occupational series: 0019 (safety technicians), 0436 (plant protection and quarantine), 1801 (general inspection, investigation, and compliance), 1802 (compliance inspection and support), 1811 (criminal investigating), 1816 (immigration inspection), 1890 (customs inspection), 1896 (border patrol agents).

[3] Only six percent of border patrol agents stationed on our land borders were on the northern border, representing five percent of total border patrol agents. See table. Figures in TRAC's earlier report on INS Border Patrol Agents summed by staffing in border states rather than the more refined figures presented here according to staffing in border counties. There are currently (March 2003) 551 full-time Border Patrol Agents in states bordering the the northern border and 9,245 agents in states bordering the Mexican border.

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