Well-Managed Agencies Turn Tough Times Into Opportunities

My family owned a 1984 Chevrolet Astro van when I was growing up. It was a gray, rambling tank that you wouldn’t dream of trying to parallel park. When the back fender showed signs of strain, my dad used duct tape to hold it together. It worked for a while, until one day it didn’t. The duct tape was, quite literally, a Band-Aid.

Sometimes the government reminds me of that car: An awkward, inefficient piece of machinery taped together, making do with short-term fixes when long-term solutions are needed. But the government has something our poor old van never had: A workforce of 2 million people trying to make it run better every day. 

That’s not easy, especially now. Automatic budget cuts, agency furloughs, a third year of a civilian federal pay freeze—the government’s list of challenges and employee morale busters is lengthy. “This is an extremely, quite unprecedented period in the life of any federal leader,” says Robert Tobias, director of key executive leadership programs at American University’s School of Public Affairs. “There have been periods in the past where feds have been under attack, where pay hasn’t increased, and there have been periods of time when there have been significant budget cuts. But this time all three are present. It’s like the perfect storm.”

Employee satisfaction with both pay and performance management dipped in 2012, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Among the disheartening statistics: Less than 22 percent of more than 687,000 respondents said pay raises at their agencies depended on how well employees did their jobs, and just 30 percent said performance is recognized in a meaningful way and promotions are merit-based. And yet, the survey also showed that a whopping 80 percent of federal employees like the work they do, and more than 75 percent of respondents said their agencies were successful at accomplishing their missions.

So the government is doing something right, or more accurately, certain agencies are. NASA, in particular, stands out for its consistently strong management and employee satisfaction ratings. NASA has “done a fantastic job” of linking the organization’s strategy to its mission goals and making sure employees understand how their work fits into the overall picture, says Kris van Riper, a managing director at Corporate Executive Board, a best practices advisory company. An agency’s commitment to engaging employees in the mission, more so than bonuses and other financial incentives, is what motivates most workers, van Riper says.

The best-managed agencies prize clear communication and transparency, use technology to further their missions and connect the workforce, and develop a solid set of performance metrics to gauge what’s working and what isn’t. Another sign of a well-run organization? Oversight, says van Riper. 

In the May/June issue of Government Executive, Kellie Lunney explores how agencies are overcoming challenging times. Read the full story here. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.