Jul 14, 2022 - News

Best places to work in the federal government

NASA astronaut in space
Work from space? Photo: NASA via Getty Images

It’s been a trying few years for millions of civil servants across the country who serve the federal government.

  • The Trump administration brought its own turmoil — with a revolving door of Cabinet officials and some deep cuts to agencies and departments — before the pandemic hit. And morale hasn’t improved under President Biden.

Driving the news: Overall employee satisfaction is down 4.5 points from 2020 to a current score of 64.5 out of 100 points, according to the 2021 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings released yesterday.

  • The annual analysis was produced by the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group.

On the up: NASA — already on a high from its success with the Webb telescope — held its #1 spot in the employee satisfaction rankings for large agencies.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs was feted as the most improved large agency, cracking into the top five.
  • The Agency for Global Media, home of Voice for America — a punching bag during the Trump years — saw the most improved score among mid-size agencies. It jumped 11.7 points, taking it a hair above the overall federal government satisfaction score.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities — which funds grants to museums, colleges, and more — was the most improved small agency, with a 25.5 point leap: “An Olympic-level vault up the rankings,” as Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, put it.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has been dead last for 10 years running among 17 big agencies.

Between the lines: A big sticking point is the future of remote work. While more federal workers here are back in-person compared to last year, officials acknowledge remote work will be more prevalent than before the pandemic. But there is uncertainty about the particulars.

  • “While employees may rather work at home or even prefer working in the office, what we see in the data and hear from federal employees is that they want communication,” says Loren DeJonge Schulman, a vice president at the Partnership for Public Service. “Agencies that have senior leaders and supervisors who offer this transparency and flexibility are seen at the top of our rankings.”

More remote work will not delight local leaders who want as much of a return to pre-pandemic times to revitalize an ailing downtown. But just like the private sector, Uncle Sam is competing for employees in a tight labor market.

  • “We are undoubtedly working toward more workplace flexibility in order to be a competitive employer,” Jason Miller, a top official in the Office of Management and Budget tells Axios.

Of note: Employees under the age of 30 are increasingly desired, and they scored high in satisfaction across most categories — except in pay.

Zoom in: The overall drop in employee satisfaction came as the Senate confirmed only 55% of Biden’s political nominees by the end of last year, the analysis notes. That’s lower than under Trump, who had 57% of confirmations greenlighted, and a big departure from Barack Obama, who had 69%.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough praised his employees for working on the frontlines, risking COVID-19 exposure to help deliver health care, burial services, and other help to nine million veterans.

  • “VA employees, like all federal employees, have been the backbone of this country during the pandemic,” McDonough said.
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