Job satisfaction down among federal employees

More civil servants have grown less satisfied with their jobs during the past year, particularly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

The number of federal employees who said they were "very satisfied" with their jobs fell 6 percent over the past year, from 49 percent in 2001 to 43 percent in 2002, according to the report, "The Troubled State of the Federal Public Service." Federal employees also reported a general decline in morale among their peers: 58 percent of employees rated morale among their co-workers as "very or somewhat high" in 2001, compared with 53 percent in 2002.

The report is based on two surveys completed before and after Sept. 11-one conducted between February and June 2001 and the other between March and May 2002.

"One can easily argue that frustration is up because federal employees have become more aware of the bureaucratic barriers and poor performance among fellow employees in this post-Sept. 11 world," the report said. "One can also argue that perceived morale is down because federal employees wanted to do more to help the nation, but felt unable to do so."

Employees believed that their agencies did not provide them with challenging work or the proper tools to do their jobs well, according to the study. They also reported growing doubts over the link between their jobs and the mission of their agency and less trust in their agencies to "do the right thing." And 41 percent of employees said they came to work primarily for the paycheck, up from 31 percent last year.

Job satisfaction levels were higher at the Defense Department than in other areas of government. Defense employees reported feeling a greater sense of purpose about their jobs since Sept. 11, saying that while their jobs had become more stressful, their work had also become more rewarding. Defense employees also reported improved performance among their peers over the past year.

The different levels of job satisfaction among Defense and non-Defense employees could be the result of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's leadership, according to the report.

"Donald Rumsfeld is not only one of the most popular appointees with the American public, but also has focused his workforce on the war on terrorism, and is working to remove bureaucratic barriers that frustrate results…. Rumsfeld rightly views human capital as a linchpin on the war against terrorism," the report said.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said a lack of resources coupled with a lack of recognition for the work of federal employees contributed to the frustration many civil servants felt with their jobs.

"I wasn't surprised," Kelley said of the report's findings. "I think the resource issue, especially for agencies like the Customs Service, has really been highlighted [in the report]," she said. Customs employees "really felt this post-Sept. 11, and they saw very little recognition for the need for additional staff and resources," Kelley said. Paul Light, vice president and director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution and the author of the report, said many employees felt the sting from a perceived lack of recognition on the part of President Bush. "I think more damaging … is the fact that the president hasn't had much to say to federal workers at all," Light said. "I think federal employees are listening to what he's not saying."

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