Nearly one in four executive level jobs at the Department of Homeland Security is vacant, according to a Congressional report released Monday.
The Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee issued the report, which says that as of May 1, 138 of 575 "executive resource" positions at DHS -- such as presidential appointments and senior-level career posts -- were unoccupied.
Since DHS became functional in 2003, "contracting abuses, poor leadership, and low employee moral [sic] have been endemic," the report charged.
DHS shot back by sending out a fact sheet on the matter, contending that 92 of those unfilled jobs are "under active recruitment," and that "77% of senior level positions department-wide are currently filled."
The department also pointed to 73 new positions, added March 1, as a factor that possibly skewed the findings of the Congressional report. Of those newly-created positions, DHS says it's been actively recruiting for approximately 60.
But the committee's findings dismissed explanations from the department.
"Whether the positions are unfilled because they are new or because the Department cannot fill them, the point remains that nearly one quarter of senior officials that the Department requires to conduct its business and protect our communities are absent," the report stated.
The report charges that the "gaping hole" among the executive ranks of DHS will have dire consequences which could lead to "heightened vulnerability to terrorist attack" during the transitional period after the 2008 elections, because of a lack of continuity in the department's leadership.
The findings point to an article in the National Journal, which reported that DHS is largely run by political appointees, who might leave the department with a change in administration after an election, versus career civil servants.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Chairman of the committee that issued the report, also pointed to breakdowns in the department's response to disaster which came under the leadership of political appointees.
"Homeland Security was bruised when the country learned that Michael Brown, an Arabian horse aficionado, was running FEMA," Thompson said in a statement.
Brown was lambasted for FEMA's slow response to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and ultimately resigned September 12, 2005 -- two weeks after the storm.
"But what's worse than a Homeland Security organization with poor leadership is a homeland security organization with no leadership," Thompson continued.
DHS strongly dismissed the report's claims, arguing that the department is "actively planning to leave the department stronger" in January 2009, and that the department currently employs only 200 political appointees out of a global workforce of 208,000.
The department points to the development of continuity plans and training of senior career employees for the transition as measures it's taken to ensure a smooth handover.
ABC News' Jason Ryan contributed to this report.