If You Love Them, Let Them Go: A Comparative Analysis of Rotational Programs and Recommendations for the Homeland Security Enterprise

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Marcie Stone


Rotational programs and developmental assignments—whereby employees temporarily work within a different part of an organization to gain new skills and knowledge—have become the rage across the country. Benefits observed in the private sector include continual learning, agility in job skills, and a “try before you buy” approach to job satisfaction for both the employee and employer. Forbes published an article in 2016 claiming that rotational assignments may be key in employee retention, especially among millennials and those entering the job market.[1] This newer generation seeks job satisfaction and the opportunity for frequent and recurring training. Major companies like Facebook are capitalizing on rotations, typically lasting one to two years, to develop future leaders within their organizations.[2] The marketing and application of these programs suggest that companies value these options to attract top candidates and to capitalize on the desire of new employees to have a vast array of choices and experiences early in their careers.

The federal government has also undertaken several initiatives to enhance professional developmental opportunities and offer rotational assignments to employees. In particular, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has outlined the importance of workforce development and culture in its policies and campaigns. For example, the 2020–2024 DHS Strategic Plan lists developing a high-performing workforce as one of the priorities of the department. The plan outlines that this development can be accomplished through recruiting and maintaining talent, as well as increasing opportunities for professional development and advancement.[3] DHS has tried multiple approaches to creating a collaborative culture through the “One DHS” campaign—the efforts to integrate departments under a common mission—as well as crowdsourcing ideas from employees for a new mission statement and introducing the Leadership Year initiative.

Offering rotational assignments is another means of augmenting professional development. DHS has developed and branded two new rotational opportunities. The first is the Homeland Security Rotational Program (HSRP), which aims to help personnel “develop a broader understanding of the DHS mission through assignments that cross organizational lines.”[4] The second rotational program is the DHS Joint Duty Program, which is intended to give middle- and senior-level staff the opportunity to work temporarily in inter- and intra-departmental organizations. These newly branded initiatives are in the early stages of implementation, but DHS has recently updated and expanded departmental rotational programs. These programs could be a solution to the challenges DHS has faced in bolstering and developing the workforce.

However, the effectiveness of DHS rotational programs remains unclear. No in-depth evaluation of the benefits and challenges of rotational assignments in government has been conducted, which makes information on this issue elusive. However, both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Intelligence Community (IC) have mature joint duty rotational assignments. These programs offer an opportunity to understand the organization of a structured, established rotational program to glean best practices and ascertain optimal functionality.

This thesis therefore asks the following questions:

  • What are the current benefits and challenges of DHS rotational programs?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of rotational programs analogous to those in DHS?
  • To what degree could DHS leverage best practices from the rotational programs of other federal agencies to strengthen the DHS workforce?

To answer these questions, this research draws upon Michael C. Campion, Lisa Cheraskin, and Michael J. Stevens’s study on rotational programs and the thesis work of John Griffiths, which provide foundational insight into essential elements of a well-designed rotational program.[5] Using these benchmarks, it assesses the benefits, challenges, and best practices of rotational or joint duty assignments in the federal government, examines the extent to which these programs are well designed according to criteria established in the literature relative to comparable programs, and provides recommendations to DHS on how to implement its rotational programs more effectively.

This research finds that, although the DHS rotational programs are in the early years of implementation, two key elements of the program are well designed. The first is that two distinct rotational programs are in existence vice one program. Since more employees can take advantage of rotational opportunities by way of the two programs, DHS can encourage the cross-pollination of its staff and fulfill the mission of employees’ acquiring organizational knowledge. The second is that some staff are designated to promoting and coordinating these programs, which ensures that the programs are highlighted and endorsed within the agency.

However, when comparing the HSRP and the DHS Joint Duty program with key elements of rotational programs, as well as best practices derived from the case studies, it is apparent that DHS programs have many opportunities for optimization. To augment the effectiveness and fulfill the mission of the programs, DHS has opportunities to improve on key elements, such as inclusivity, encouraging participation through credits and incentives, ensuring a strong foundation for the program, and developing a continual review process through metrics, data collection, and review. These enhancements will ultimately ensure that rotational opportunities within DHS meet the intention of cultivating future generations of homeland security leaders.



[1] Kaytie Zimmerman, “Are Rotational Programs the Key to Retaining Millennial Employees,” Forbes, August 8, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2016/08/08/can-a-millennial-quarter-life-crisis-be-cured-by-their-employer/#6e0668b6446f.

[2] “Rotational Project Manager Program,” Facebook RPM Program, accessed October 5, 2018, http://fbrpms.com.

[3] Department of Homeland Security, Fiscal Years 2020–2024 Strategic Plan (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2020), 53–54, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/19_0702_plcy_dhs-strategic-plan-fy20-24.pdf.

[4] Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Rotation Program (HSRP) Frequently Asked Questions (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2018), v5.

[5] Michael C. Campion, Lisa Cheraskin, and Michael J. Stevens, “Career-related Antecedents and Outcomes of Job Rotation,” Academy of Management Journal 37, no. 6 (December 1994): 1518, https://doi.org/10.5465/256797; John Griffiths, “A Whole of Government Approach through Interagency Partner Development: National Security Professional Development” (master’s thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2014), 12–15, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a611024.pdf.

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