Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Commitee

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Commitee Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Lawmakers Want to Know More About Why Feds’ Morale Is So Low

House Oversight Democrats say agency effectiveness appears damaged, request GAO study.

The pay freeze, furloughs and last October’s government shutdown have so deflated the federal workforce that it’s time for Congress’ watchdog agency to conduct a systematic probe of the impact on agency performance, according to three Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“Stakeholders, including federal employee organizations, have noted that federal workers have become increasingly dissatisfied with their employment, and that this may be compromising the federal government’s ability to serve the American people,” wrote Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, in a March 27 letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting a Government Accountability Office study.

Noting that federal pay and benefits have been cut by $140 billion in recent years to help trim the budget deficit, they wrote: “The 1 percent pay increase that took effect at the beginning of this year does not begin to make up for the losses they have incurred.”

The lawmakers, who include the ranking member of the Oversight panel and the top Democrat on its subcommittee on the federal workforce, cited plummeting morale as evidenced in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in Government survey. Morale, the letter said, has “fallen to historic lows.” In the 2013 governmentwide viewpoint survey the Office of Personnel Management released in November, the percentage of workers giving positive marks decreased over the previous year’s numbers in 53 of 55 categories measured.

The lawmakers’ letter asked GAO to consider seven areas of inquiry to assess the morale and effectiveness of the workforce, including recruitment and retention, performance and productivity, the achievement of agency missions, the extent to which OPM helps agencies improve employee engagement, and lessons to be learned from agencies that have significantly improved employee engagement.

It also noted that President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget requests funding for training to improve employee engagement and to continue implementing the administration’s performance management agenda, and asked GAO to identify “root causes” of poor engagement and steps the government can take to alleviate it.

A GAO spokeswoman said the agency will follow its normal process in considering the request over the coming weeks.