The First “Dignity Officer” at the Department of Homeland Security

A ‘Period Dignity Officer’ Seemed Like a Good Idea. Until a Man Was Named.

Every year, the Department of Homeland Security selects around 25 new “inter-agency” representatives with federal agencies scattered across the globe to serve in-residence at the country’s largest detention center, a sprawling federal prison in Florence, South Carolina, which holds nearly 100,000 male inmates. For some, like the one selected for this story, they have a role to play in the nation’s ongoing debate over the role of religion in the public square. But for most, what they do is little more than a job with a hefty paycheck and a lot of bureaucracy.

It began as a job that sounded like a good idea.

“We needed a new way to train and educate the inter-agency public affairs professionals on the agency,” said John A. McManus, then a deputy regional commissioner for the agency’s Criminal Division who left the job in 2004. He was later promoted to regional commissioner of the agency’s Office of Global Affairs in Washington, D.C., which oversaw the agency’s international programs and offices in 30 countries.

McManus had been selected by his boss, George W. Bush, to be an intern at the then-new Homeland Security Department’s Office of Security and Consular Affairs. That fall, as McManus and his group of fellow interns embarked on what he later described as a year of “unprecedented” learning, the office had been designated the agency’s first “period dignity officer.”

He learned to use that phrase first to describe what he called a “dignity officer,” a job with a job description that, among other things, required him to train federal agents and officials in how to speak with reporters, and inform them of the agency’s foreign operations. They included, for instance, the ability to tell a reporter in the Philippines you knew a local who had been convicted of smuggling drugs.

But then the new job seemed like a good idea.

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