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DHS hopes giving employees cash, awards will make DHS a better place to work

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After placing last on a list of large federal agencies that are the best places to work, the Department of Homeland Security is handing out awards and money to employees in an effort to boost morale, according to a top DHS official.

The National Archives and Records Administration runs an annual poll among hundreds of thousands of federal workers to see where these workers are most happy. According to the 2014 survey, NASA was voted the best large agency for workers, followed by the Department of Commerce and the Department of State.

Jeh Johnson was just named as Homeland Security Secretary. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is hoping more money and more awards will help make DHS a better place to work. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The last two on the list were the much-troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, and DHS.

Catherine Emerson, the chief human capital officer at DHS, told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that DHS is working hard to remove DHS from the bottom of the list.

"We are DHS are not happy with our overall scores in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and we are working diligently to improve," she said in her prepared remarks.

In 2014, DHS started an initiative called the "Building the Department You Deserve" program. It's led by Deputy DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was implicated in a plan to do political favors for Democrats seeking visas for unqualified foreigners.

According to Emerson, the plan focuses on five components, most of which involve showering cash and awards on DHS workers. For example, she said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has honored "several hundred employees" with awards over the last several years, and has directed various parts of DHS to "honor the contributions of their employees and DHS partners."

A related effort involves highlighting the "extraordinary efforts of our employees," and to do so "on a rotating basis."

Emerson said the department is also trying to create career paths for certain officials, one that "provides them with growth opportunities and a pay scale commensurate with their tremendous responsibilities and skills."

Another effort was working with Congress to pass the Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, which adjusted the way border agents earn overtime pay. Much of that effort was actually aimed at ensuring border agents stop raiding overtime pay funds when they don't work overtime.

Finally, Emerson said DHS is giving workers more information about how they can apply for other jobs within the department.

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