Homeland Security watchdog calls out 'serious management and performance challenges' linked to vacant leadership positions

Several key leadership positions have been repeatedly left vacant.

A new watchdog report is sounding the alarm over long-standing vacancies in the Department of Homeland Security.

The report, examining turnover and shifting leadership at the DHS, found "serious management and performance challenges," as well as "serious gaps" in department communication and operations linked to high turnover and vacant leadership positions across the agency over the past year.

"Since its inception, DHS has had difficulties ensuring it can expeditiously hire and retain highly qualified workers. This situation is exacerbated by changes and vacancies in senior leadership," investigators at the Office of Inspector General wrote in a memo to the DHS secretary’s office.

Nearly one-third of senior DHS leadership positions have been filed by temporary "acting" officials, as the report points out, including the highest ranks of Homeland Security leadership. Former acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan served for six months without receiving a nomination for Senate confirmation.

He was the longest-serving acting secretary in the department's history before resigning in October and handing off his duties to Chad Wolf, the current acting secretary. President Donald Trump has yet to officially name a nominee to permanently lead the agency.

Trump has said he doesn't mind his administration leadership serving in "acting" roles because it gives him more "flexibility." The Senate confirmation process for cabinet-level positions does not apply to acting secretaries.

In a response attached to the new report, DHS did not dispute the findings, some of which inspectors noted were "often beyond DHS' control."

"DHS will continue striving to fully address its management and performance challenges, and to build the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen," a liaison for the agency wrote.

In a bipartisan letter to the White House earlier this month, the heads of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs urged Trump to take action and fill the positions that have been left empty for months and -- in some cases -- years.

"The American people deserve leaders who will ensure stability and accountability to the Department," Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., wrote in the bipartisan letter.