Federal employees appear undaunted despite budget climate

Despite pay freezes and a general squeezing of the government workforce, the decline of governmentwide employee satisfaction revealed a new survey is mild. 

The Partnership for Public Service’s newly released 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government shows a 1.5 percent decline in satisfaction and commitment -- from 65 to 64 out of 100, compared to 2010.

“The surprise was that it wasn’t a bigger decline given everything that’s going on with the brink of a possible shutdown, a federal pay freeze, an increase in antigovernment rhetoric before the next election and the discussion to take another whack at federal benefits,” said John Palguta, vice president of policy at the partnership.


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Several agencies also managed to buck the trend and rose significantly in employee satisfaction. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ranked highest on this year’s list, moving up two slots from 2010. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission came in as the second-highest ranking agency in employee satisfaction after holding the top spot for three consecutive years. The Government Accountability Office, which ranked second in 2010, placed third this year.

Palguta said he was especially pleased with seeing the inclusion of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the agency subcomponent level. Part of conventional wisdom, he said, is that organizations that don’t have “sexy, high-grade jobs and technology like NASA” tend not to do as well with employee satisfaction.

Agencies that previously scored low on the employee satisfaction ratings have made efforts to respond to employee feedback and criticism, by substantive interventions and management initiatives, Palguta said. Employee satisfaction ratings are often tied to how engaged employees are with their agency: The more committed and satisfied employees are in their jobs, the more productive they are, he added.

“If you don’t like your job, you don’t like your boss, you think the organization is unfair, you may show up for the paycheck but you’re not giving your best effort,” Palguta said.

The agencies that saw employee satisfaction ratings drop the most this year were National Archives and Records Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Homeland Security.

But an agency’s low rankings do not always give the bigger-picture view of what goes in within an organization. NARA, for example, has been working to fix the problems that contributed to the low rankings but has going through a culture change after 90 percent of its senior executives left in the past year, Palguta said.

Top 10 best large agencies:


1. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
2. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
3. Government Accountability Office
4. Smithsonian Institution
5. NASA
6. Social Security Administration
7. State Department
8. Intelligence community
9. Office of Personnel Management
10. General Services Administration

Top 10 small agencies
1. Surface Transportation Board
2. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
3. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
4. Peace Corps
5. Farm Credit Administration
6. Overseas Private Investment Corporation
7. Federal Labor Relations Authority
8. Commodity Futures Trading Commission
9. National Endowment for the Humanities
10. Federal Trade Commission

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

The 2014 Federal 100

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Reader comments

Fri, Nov 18, 2011

I figure if we leave then those seditious anti-American politicians on the Hill win. Some of us need to make sure the country continues to survive despite their efforts to destroy it.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011

The results are not surprising at all. I think the majority of government workers value service to country and people above financial gain. If not they would have left government service for higher paying jobs years ago.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011

I have enjoyed working for DoD, but I am not surprised that it didn't make a Top 10 list. Afterall, where is the first place everyone wants to cut when times are tough.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011

The counterintuitive nature of this folk psychology aside one must ask how sentient life survives in an intellectual vacuum.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 JinVA

The survey didn't ask about pay satisfaction as I recall, it was more along the lines of do you like the work you are doing, do you have the opportunity to attend training, does your supervisor care about whether you can get your job done, and so on. It didn't say "are you happy about a pay freeze". Yes, most feds like the work they do, or they look around for another job, or ask for other work to do in their current positions, and there is enough work to go around to accomodate most of those requests. No, none of us are happy about not getting a pay raise, at least enough to handle inflation (and I mean inflation in food, gas, medical expenses, the cost of a car, etc, not the cost of a new house...who buys a new house every year?? It's stupid to include things like that when measuring inflation). Then again yes, we are all happy to not be unemployed, furloughed, or forced to work part time. But if they had asked, "do you feel underpayed because there was no pay raise last year, won't be next year, and probably we will have furloughs" everyone would have answered "you betcha".

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