Law Enforcement Employees Don’t Trust Agencies To Heed Input On Improving Federal Workplace

A U.S. Border Patrol Agent wears a black stripe over his badge during the 22nd Annual Blue Mass ceremony kicking off National Police Week at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Washington, May 3. A U.S. Border Patrol Agent wears a black stripe over his badge during the 22nd Annual Blue Mass ceremony kicking off National Police Week at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Washington, May 3. CBP Photo by Glenn Fawcett

Many federal law enforcement officials don’t believe their agencies use the feedback they receive from the annual employee viewpoint survey to improve the workplace, according to a new analysis.

Eight of 12 federal law enforcement agencies reported scores lower than in the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey when asked whether results are used to improve their workplace. As calculated by PPS, 35 percent of all respondents governmentwide said they believed their agencies incorporated their feedback, which means that more than half of the agencies in the law enforcement category fell below that percentage.

There’s even less confidence among the federal law enforcement community working outside of Washington that agency leaders will act on their concerns, according to the analysis conducted by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte. The analysis is part of PPS’ Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, which is based on data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual FEVS.

“At half of the 12 agencies, less than 30 percent of the employees in the field offices believe that action will be taken based on their feedback,” the report said. “These include Secret Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” PPS and Deloitte based their latest analysis on OPM’s 2015 FEVS and a February 2016 workshop with several officials from federal law enforcement agencies.

The 12 law enforcement agencies that PPS and Deloitte looked at are housed in the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Treasury. They include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Prisons, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Protection.

Several participants in the February event “suggested that agency leaders do not always recognize the link between employee engagement and accomplishing their mission, often seeing these two issues as separate rather than closely intertwined,” the report noted. “As a result, they said, efforts to address many employee workplace concerns are often pushed off the list of priorities.”

The PPS-Deloitte analysis identified three major workplace challenges facing law enforcement agencies: the health and wellness of employees; open communication; and employee satisfaction and commitment to the mission. Given the unique demands and stress on law enforcement personnel, agencies should make available a range of mental health and support services as well as maintain enough staff so people aren’t overworked.

“Be aware of how limited resources can affect the strain on employees and their perception of safety, and evaluate the alignment of training, equipment and appropriate staffing to meet the mission requirements,” PPS advised.

Dealing with sensitive information can pose a challenge to communicating freely within the law enforcement community, but “if leaders of law enforcement agencies do not think about their communication with employees in a strategic way, employees may not be clear on priorities, key changes, or events that may affect the organization and their work,” the report said. This is especially important for employees working outside of Washington, the analysis said.

The FBI, which is the top-rated law enforcement agency in the Best Places to Work rankings, got top marks for tending to its employees’ well-being. FBI employees have rated their work-life balance above the governmenwide average in FEVS for the last five years. PPS also praised FBI Director James Comey for visiting the agency’s field offices to talk to employees and assess morale. In addition, the nonprofit cited Comey’s efforts to prioritize communication throughout the agency and deal proactively with employees’ workplace concerns through advisory committees and in-house employee surveys.

At the other end of the spectrum, DHS struggles in the annual FEVS, reflected in its low rankings among the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government. Secretary Jeh Johnson has made boosting employee morale a top priority, and recently unveiled a new mission statement for the department to help unify and inspire the workforce. Three DHS employees are finalists for the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, sponsored by PPS.

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