Leadership void at Department of Homeland Security

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The Department of Homeland Security is suffering from a leadership void as the nation's youngest Cabinet-level agency faces a host of growing pains.

President Obama has yet to pick a replacement for Janet Napolitano, who said three months ago she would step down as secretary in September. Fifteen other top jobs are vacant. Employee morale is alarmingly low as the debate over comprehensive immigration reform drags on, and airport security remains a sore point with both the public and the DHS. Deadly attacks in Boston and Washington have the nation — and agency — on high alert.

Ten years ago, a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission led to the creation of the department. Since its inception, DHS has been an often-uncomfortable marriage of mostly civilian agencies tasked with defending the country's borders. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Administration all call DHS home.

"It has always been an internal conflict because you've brought together these major operating systems that had other responsibilities beyond counterterrorism, and so there's always been that balancing act," said Christian Beckner, the deputy director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There's a natural tension there.”

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