What will it take to make feds happy?

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Federal employee global satisfaction scores have risen for consecutive years, but lawmakers still think there's a long way to go in improving workforce engagement, as well as the survey that provides the data.

The 2016 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings are produced by the Partnership for Public Service in conjunction with Deloitte and mostly derived from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

The new rankings reported a government-wide job satisfaction score of 59.4 out of 100, which trails the government's all-time high score of 65.0 in 2010, as well as the private sector's score of 77.1.

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, testified at an April 6 hearing, that

"there's no reason why we should have that kind of discrepancy between public and private sector, other than poor management."

"It's not because federal employees are not committed to the mission," he said. "We have short-term political leaders that don't align to the long-term needs of the organizations they run."

To improve this "frightening" data, Stier suggested that agencies take steps in "modernizing our civil service system" by implementing feedback given by employees and instituting incentives such as market-based pay.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) complained that government management is overly "rule-driven" and "rule-bound."

"That seems to stifle, sometimes, creativity and seems to minimize performance with all the protections," he said. "It's not the model we need moving forward."

Connolly also warned about the effect the Trump administration's proposed cuts could have on a workforce environment where employee engagement is already a concern.

Stier agreed that the current budget environment was troubling.

"Uncertainty is the most corrosive of all," he said. "For any other organization in any other context, the idea that they could manage effectively and achieve results without knowing what their resource base is, is impossible."

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the subcommittee and also chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, attempted to temper those budget concerns, saying, "I think the budget that we pass will be not as impactful as perhaps some are concerned about today," but acknowledged, "we do have fiscal constraints."

"Long-range planning in the private sector is five to 10 years, and long-range planning here is nine months," he said.

Veronica Villalobos, the acting executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council at OPM, said that the "full potential" of the survey is "limited by restrictions of having over half of the core survey items prescribed in regulation."

"Because core items were in regulation, 45 such items have not been updated since 2007," she said. "Modernizing the FEVS will ultimately improve the strategic responsiveness of the survey and, more importantly, the data provided to agency leadership."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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