A Republican lawmaker on Tuesday handed federal employees some unexpected gifts this holiday season: An apology and a thank you.
“I close with a heartfelt thank you on behalf of Congress, and all of those who never tell you in the way that they should, that they appreciate the federal workforce,” said North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, during a breakfast celebrating the agencies included in the latest rankings of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. “I close also with an apology for the times when you have been used as the person who is to be blamed for the inefficiencies, or the way that we should be doing business and are not.”
The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting released the 2015 results, and handed out awards to the top five agencies, as well as those that improved the most, in each category. Meadows, along with acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert, and Labor Department Deputy Secretary Chris Lu, spoke at the event.
Meadows, who has embarked on a listening tour at federal agencies during this past year, continued the charm offensive on Tuesday. He talked about visiting NASA, which for the fourth consecutive year was the No. 1 place to work among large federal agencies, and sharing its “great story” with lawmakers, saying it was important to take notice and emphasize when government is making progress.
“Not only are members of Congress, in a bipartisan way, going to make sure that we put an emphasis on that -- it is important that we make sure that the compensation and the rewards for a job well done are there as well,” he said, adding he would continue to share the good news about the federal workforce with his colleagues.
Meadows drew laughter from the crowd, which included NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, when he said his wife reminded him after his trip to the space agency that “appreciation is green.”
The North Carolinian, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who earlier this year vowed to be nicer to feds, briefly lost his gavel in June when he apparently ran afoul of Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on a trade vote. Chaffetz shortly thereafter reconsidered the ouster, and reinstated Meadows.
As for the Best Places to Work rankings, agencies that were at the top and bottom last year occupied those slots in 2015 too. In addition to NASA, the intelligence community, departments of Justice, State and Commerce rounded out the top five. The rankings include 391 federal agencies and their subcomponents. The Homeland Security Department, which has struggled with morale and management since its creation, ranked last among large agencies again. The Veterans Affairs Department, plagued with scandal and mismanagement since the 2014 scandal involving excessive wait times for patient appointments erupted, also ranked at the bottom.
But there were a few new things. Seventy percent of individual federal organizations improved their overall satisfaction and commitment scores in 2015, compared to only 43 percent in 2014, and 24 percent in 2013. The 2015 data, based on OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, also showed increases in employee satisfaction in all 10 workplace categories. For the first time, the authors of the report grouped 75 federal organizations by six mission areas: energy and environment, financial regulation, law enforcement, national security, oversight and public health. The FBI, for example, was the top agency in the law enforcement category, with a “satisfaction and commitment” score of 69.9 among employees, while the Secret Service had a score of 33.4 in that category – a 36.5 point difference. The Secret Service was the subject of a recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report detailing the agency’s rock-bottom morale, a series of botched operations, and difficulty rooting out bad behavior.
Another significant gap existed in job satisfaction between members of the Senior Executive Service and the rest of the workforce – a score of 82.9 for SESers compared to 58.1 for other federal employees.
Cobert encouraged the crowd to “pick a few things to work on” when it comes to improving employee engagement and job satisfaction because “we can’t all address everything at once.” Lu, whose agency was the most improved in the large-agency category, noted that even seemingly small things can make a difference, like improving signage at the department and putting a microwave in Labor’s cafeteria. Employees had provided those suggestions as workplace improvements, and leadership listened.
Cobert, whom President Obama has nominated to serve as the permanent OPM director, said it was OPM’s job to get employee engagement and other workforce data to managers “as quickly as possible” so they can use it to improve the federal workplace. “When employees see that you are using the data that is how they know that everyone is committed to their improvement.”