OMB tops list of best federal workplaces

Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work Web site

A new ranking of the best places to work in the federal government shows that employees are happier in their jobs than they were two years ago, when a similar survey of federal workers was conducted.

The ranking, led this year by the Office of Management and Budget, can serve as a useful tool for agency leaders to make their agencies more effective and productive, said Robert Tobias, director of the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation at American University. The institute and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service created the ranking with data that the Office of Personnel Management collected in 2004 from 150,000 federal employees.

Among the 30 federal agencies that employ the most people, three out of four showed improvement in what Tobias called employee engagement. The two factors that contributed the most to employee engagement, he said, were the quality of leaders in those agencies and a close match between the employee’s job skills and the agency’s mission.

Besides OMB, federal agencies ranked in the top five are the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Government Accountability Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

At the bottom of the ranking were the Education Department, the Homeland Security Department and the Small Business Administration. Although some parts of DHS, such as the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, rated high in the employee satisfaction survey, the department as a whole ranked No. 29 out of 30.

Besides being ranked No. 1, OMB also earned “most improved” status, having been No. 3 in the 2003 employee ranking. The office’s deputy director for management, Clay Johnson, said the No. 1 ranking gave him an opportunity to use a bit of humor to chide his senior staff members, who he said are under considerable pressure in dealing with Hurricane Katrina and other crises.

Johnson said he reminded them that they work in the best agency in the federal government, and if they think they have it bad, they should remember that “it’s worse everyplace else.”

Johnson’s explanation for employee satisfaction at OMB was the important mission of the agency. Under President Bush, its mission and role have been elevated, he said. “That role is helping to spend the taxpayers’ money well,” he said, adding that OMB employees take great pride in that.

After noting that “we overwork people,” Johnson said that the biggest factor in employee satisfaction at any agency is the quality of an employee’s immediate supervisor.

With about 500 employees, OMB is one of the smaller agencies in the large-agency ranking. But whatever OMB is doing to promote employee engagement can be replicated at agencies with thousands of employees, said David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, the top official at GAO. “The principles and processes are scalable to the largest agencies,” he said. “And it’s not rocket science.”

The Partnership for Public Service, which promotes public service employment, published a separate ranking of smaller agencies that includes regional offices within larger agencies. The top-ranked agencies and offices on that list are the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the Environmental Protection Agency’s San Francisco field office, the EPA’s Seattle field office, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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