The Best Places to Work report showed morale improvements over 2020 at just one large agency, but also at a number of smaller agencies that had come under fire during the Trump administration.

The Best Places to Work report showed morale improvements over 2020 at just one large agency, but also at a number of smaller agencies that had come under fire during the Trump administration. Ami Wakisaka / EyeEm via Getty Images

Federal Employee Morale is Falling, and One Group Thinks the Slow Appointments Process Is to Blame

The Veterans Affairs Department was the only large agency to improve on its 2020 score in the latest annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report.

A good government group on Wednesday released its annual analysis of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, finding that across government, employee engagement and satisfaction fell 4.5 points from 2020 to 2021.

Unlike the Office of Personnel Management, which pointed to the unusual timing of the survey, aligning with agencies planning to begin bringing employees back to traditional work sites, the Partnership for Public Service pointed to a much more routine source of declining morale: the presidential transition. Although the group indicated the impending reduction in telework likely played a role in declining scores, it specifically cited the slow appointment process in its analysis.

“The sizable drop in employee engagement and satisfaction came during President Joe Biden’s first year in office, during which the administration saw only 55% of its nominations requiring Senate confirmation fully confirmed,” the Partnership wrote. “The leadership vacancy problem presents a major challenge for the administration, which has described federal employees as the ‘backbone of our government’ and committed in the President’s Management Agenda to ‘make every federal job a good job, where all employees are engaged, supported, heard and empowered.’ ”

Although President Biden has performed better with senior appointments than his predecessor, whom many suspected simply declined to appoint officials to some positions within agencies to which he was hostile, it still has been an uphill battle. A report last week from the Revolving Door Project found that there is not enough time for all of Biden’s pending nominees and appointments to be confirmed before the end of this Congress, due in part to some Republican senators’ blocking of unanimous consent requests.

“There has never been a time in which the capabilities of our government are more critical to our health and safety as they are today,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the partnership, in a statement. “Public servants are on the front lines of every major challenge facing our country and securing the organizational support they need to be successful is in the nation’s best interest. The 2021 Best Places to Work findings make clear that ensuring flexibility for employees and providing them with the support they need to do their jobs is key to improving the experience of the federal workforce.”

When OPM released the results of the 2021 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the agency did not release its customary agency-by-agency scores on employee engagement or global satisfaction, in an effort to more quickly get the survey back to the traditional spring survey administration time frame. The Partnership’s report therefore offers the first comprehensive look at individual agency performance.

For the 10th straight year, the highest performing large agency was NASA, although it fell 1.5 points from 86.6 out of 100 in 2020 to 85.1 last year. The only large agency to improve on its 2020 scores was the Veterans Affairs Department, which ticked up slightly to 70.2 in 2021, compared to only 70.0 the prior year.

The best performing mid-size agency was the Government Accountability Office, which increased 0.4 points from 89.4 in 2020 to 89.8 last year. And the strongest small agency was the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which fell from 86.1 in 2020 to 85.6 in 2021.

A number of agencies that frequently found themselves in the crosshairs of officials in the Trump administration saw sizeable increases, despite the overall downward trend in engagement and morale. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau jumped 11.1 points, from 63.5 in 2020 to 74.6 in 2021, while the U.S. Agency for Global Media scored a 64.7, an 11.7 point increase over its 2020 performance.

Similarly, the Federal Labor Relations Authority spiked 13.8 points, from 64.6 in 2020 to 78.4 last year, while the National Labor Relations Board improved from 54.7 in 2020 to 60.9 in 2021. And the Office of Management and Budget saw a solid improvement of 15.3 points, increasing from 54.6 in 2020 to 69.9 last year.

The full list of agencies and agency subcomponents ranked by the Partnership can be found here.