Revealed: The best (and worst) agencies for launching a career

If you want a federal career, consider the Veterans Affairs Department: New research shows that employees there report the highest satisfaction levels compared with all other agencies. 

The Partnership for Public Service's “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" analysis, based on the Office of Personnel Management 2010 employee survey, found that the VA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and NASA received highest overall satisfaction ratings from federal employees under age 30. The lowest scores were reported at the Army, the Education Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The research from the partnership and Deloitte found that federal employees who have been on the job for three years or more tend to be much less satisfied with their jobs than those who have served for a shorter time.

“There really is a honeymoon period within those first three years of [employees'] entrance to their federal service, and in large part what the data really shows is that they feel much more connection to mission at that point and they also feel a little bit more empowered to do the work that’s in front of them,” said Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach at the group.

The survey also shows that the most notable satisfaction discrepancies are related to effective leadership and what employees think of their supervisors. Factors such as pay, training and advancement opportunities also play a role in determining how satisfied employees are with their workplaces.

“Those that are actually given a lot of developmental opportunities and given the ability to develop skills in different ways of doing their work are much more satisfied and much more likely to stay,” McManus said. “One of the warning signals for agencies is that often times when we bring new people in, we provide developmental opportunities up front, but after a certain period of time, it’s kind of ‘fend for yourself!' "

New employees also tend to report higher satisfaction levels with their agencies’ senior leaders than do more seasoned workers. Young employees at the Social Security Administration, the VA and the Environmental Protection Agency reported they were most satisfied with their agency leaders. The VA, SSA and the Securities and Exchange Commission topped the list of young employees who reported they were satisfied with their supervisors.

The partnership has estimated that 102,500 federal employees are likely to be hired in fiscal year 2012, a “clear decline” compared with previous years when the numbers ranged from 135,000 to 145,000, McManus said.

“With tight budgets, the government is not going to hire at the same rate that it has in the past,” he said. “What that means is that when you get good people in the door, you need to do everything you can to hold onto them because the likelihood to fill one-for-one is probably nonexistent. And the resources, the interview time and everything else you put into making a hire is really all for naught. If you can’t keep [employees] beyond couple of years, you’re simply going to have a revolving door. ”


About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 13, 2011

Worthless bodies have worthless support from worth less than worthless management. And right on tired Freddie! My unit has 2 support positions for 5 managers. Too top heavy. Cuts will come at the bottom not top!

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 tired Feddy

Here at the USDA, OCIO, the premier service delivery organization-ahem, technology moves forward and while we upgrade hardware and embrace new operating systems there is never any training. some how we are each gifted when new stuff comes along, the box arrives and poof, we're the experts. a standard of certification requirements would even out the promotions and give us a target to aim for. it's largely bloodsucking and after many years it's hard to keep up. why spend thousands on a msce when you can do nothing and get to the same place. Innovation will not be tolerated here nor will motivation.

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 MR Virginia

SW puts his finger on the crux of the problem that I have always had with these types of surveys: the agencies are too large to normalize a single level of satisfaction across the entire organization. People working in the HR department, for example, might be thrilled with the agency and the senior leadership. But people in the IT department might hate it just because senior manager doesn't understand their challenges. I would certainly never pick one agency over another on the basis of such as broad-based attitude check.

Fri, Sep 9, 2011

To SW: Well, that is what you get for being a techie. Being a political bureaucrat is what government is all about. Your boss is going to get a bonus and a promotion for getting rid of 140 worthless bodies.

Fri, Sep 9, 2011

I love my federal agency. It's got loads of opportunities. Yes, I had one year of that special hell that comes when working for Satan, but I know how to work the system to find work I enjoyed.

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