NASA ranked best place to work in government

The most satisfied employees in the federal government work for NASA, according to results of the latest governmentwide employee satisfaction survey.

Overall, 78 percent of NASA employees said they were satisfied with their jobs in 1999, according to a summary of the best-performing agencies in 32 categories obtained by The National Partnership for Reinventing Government and the Office of Personnel Management, which administered the survey, have not yet officially released the full survey results.

"NASA's an agency that has a really neat mission," said Brian Welch, a NASA spokesman. "We explore the universe, we fly in space, we advance the science of flying airplanes. We do things that are cool."

In 1998, 62 percent of federal workers said they were satisfied with their jobs, putting morale at NASA well above morale at most federal agencies. Of the 32 issues on which employees were surveyed in 1999, NASA scored highest on 14, including employees' ratings of their immediate supervisors, the spirit of cooperation in their work units, the agency's policies toward family and personal life responsibilities, and the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job.

"I'm not at all surprised," said Keith Cowing, the editor of NASA Watch, an online news publication. "I used to work there. I loved my job."

NASA employees also gave the space agency the highest score on whether the agency "has made reinvention a priority." Fifty-nine percent of NASA employees agreed with that statement.

But Donald Teague, president of the NASA Headquarters Professional Association, said reinvention-in the form of downsizing and budget cuts-has hurt morale at the agency. The NASA workforce has declined from 24,000 employees at the end of 1993 to 18,000 at the end of 1999.

"I know a lot of NASA employees that are not satisfied," Teague said. "We're satisfied with the mission of NASA ... but I don't know that we're all that satisfied with the current state of NASA."

Welch agreed that downsizing has been tough on employees, particularly at headquarters. But he added that senior managers, including NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, have been working hard to address employee morale. As an example, Welch pointed to the recent Mars Polar Lander failure.

"At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there are a lot of people who are really hurting. The failure was very disappointing," Welch said. "But the agency did not condemn those folks. Instead the agency said there's nobody else that's better at this in the world, and we're going to make mistakes. But we're also going to have successes."

The survey also found pockets of success at other agencies. At the Internal Revenue Service, for example, 90 percent of employees said the agency has service goals aimed at meeting customer expectations.

The summary of the governmentwide survey results also suggests that in some categories, even the best-performing agencies are not wowing their employees. The Patent and Trademark Office, for example, scored the highest marks of any agency in dealing with poor performers and basing recognition and rewards on merit. But in both categories, only about 50 percent of employees agreed that the agency does a good job in those areas.

The Census Bureau got the highest percentage of positive responses to the question, "Has your organization streamlined the process for hiring employees?" Thirty percent of Census employees said yes.

The full results of the governmentwide survey are scheduled for release later this month.

Top-Ranked Agencies in 1999 Employee Survey

Issue Top Agency Percent
1. There are service goals aimed at meeting customer expectations. Internal Revenue Service 90
2. There are well-defined systems for linking customers' feedback and complaints to employees who can act on the information. Bureau of Consular Affairs (State) 61
3. Managers communicate the organization's mission, vision and skills. NASA 74
4. My immediate supervisor has organized our work group effectively to get the work done. NASA 67
5. At the place I work, my opinions seem to count. NASA 73
6. A spirit of cooperation and teamwork exists in my immediate work unit. NASA 80
7. Teams are used to accomplish organizational goals, when appropriate. NASA 83
8. Employees are rewarded for working together in teams (for example, performance ratings, cash awards, certificates, public recognition). Census Bureau 63
9. Employees in different work units participate in cross-functional teams to accomplish work objectives. NASA 78
10. Recognition and rewards are based on merit. Patent and Trademark Office 53
11. Creativity and innovation are rewarded. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 56
12. Employees receive training and guidance in providing high-quality customer service. Patent and Trademark Office 61
13. Employees receive the training they need to perform their jobs (for example, on-the-job training, conferences, workshops). NASA 75
14. Differences among individuals (for example, gender, race, national origin, religion, age, cultural background, disability) are respected and valued. NASA 74
15. Supervisors/team leaders understand and support employees' family/personal life responsibilities. NASA 82
16. My organization has made reinvention a priority. NASA 59
17. In the past 2 years, the productivity of my owrk unit has improved. General Services Administration 59
18. In the past 2 years, I have been given more flexibility in how I accomplish my work. General Services Administration 63
19. Employees are required to report the hours they work on a daily basis. * Patent and Trademark Office 85
20. Corrective actions are taken when employees do not meet performance standards. Patent and Trademark Office 51
21. Management and the union(s) work cooperatively on mutual problems. Financial Management Service (Treasury) 70
22. Has your organization simplified travel regulations? General Services Administration 52
23. Has your organization streamlined the process for hiring employees? Census Bureau 30
24. Has the use of government credit cards for small office purchases been implemented in your organization? General Services Administration 81
25. Are you clear about how "good performance" is defined in your organization? Patent and Trademark Office 48
26. Do you have electronic access to information needed to do your job? NASA 85
27. Is the use of plain language writing being emphasized in your workplace? Office of Personnel Management 52
28. Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job? NASA 78
29. How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work? NASA 68
30. How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job? NASA 62
31. Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor/team leader? National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 71
32. How would you rate the overall quality of work being done in your work group? Office of Personnel Management 84

* Question 19 is designed to see if agencies have stopped requiring employees to use time and attendance sheets. PTO's quota system for processing applications requires that employees track their time.
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