Homeland Security chief tells lawmakers that bashing morale at his agency only makes it worse

Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday with a message for lawmakers: Stop focusing on low morale at my agency — you're only making it worse.

Johnson met with the chairman and top Democrat of a House subcommittee on government operations, ahead of a hearing the panel was holding on the worst places to work in the federal government. The Homeland Security Department tops the list of worst big agencies, according to a survey by the Office of Personnel Management, and an agency manager was called to testify.

"I am tired of people saying to my workforce that we have low morale," Johnson told reporters after his meeting with GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia. "So when I see subcommittee hearings entitled 'worst places to work' at which one of my people is called as a witness, I want to personally get in there."

Johnson summarized his message to the lawmakers: "One of the ways that you improve morale is to stop continually telling my workforce that you have lousy morale."

He also said he was in the middle of implementing a multi-pronged plan to improve morale, including by improving transparency, promotion, hiring and mentoring opportunities. And he said things were getting better.

In his opening statement at the hearing, Meadows acknowledged Johnson for showing up to meet with him and defended the aim of his hearing.

"The ranking member and I believe focusing on the great workforce that we have is critical," Meadows said. "There is at least one Democrat and one Republican willing to look at what matters most to the hundreds of thousands of federal workforce employees that serve our public every day."