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Not Good Enough for Government Work: Rankings Help Improve Government Performance
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Not Good Enough for Government Work: Rankings Help Improve Government Performance

Ranking the best places to work in government encourages agencies to act to improve morale, write Jitinder Kohli and John Griffith.

Air traffic controllers  Kevin Plante, left, and Chris Presley, pose near the tower at the Portland International Jetport in Portland, ME. The morale of federal workers has a definite impact on the performance of government agencies and the quality of the services they provide.
  (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)
Air traffic controllers Kevin Plante, left, and Chris Presley, pose near the tower at the Portland International Jetport in Portland, ME. The morale of federal workers has a definite impact on the performance of government agencies and the quality of the services they provide.   (AP/Robert F. Bukaty)

Usually, only government employees pay much attention to the annual rankings of employee satisfaction in government agencies, but we at the Doing What Works project at the Center for American Progress believe that the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings released earlier this week by the Partnership for Public Service help government work better. Federal workers have a wide range of responsibilities from air traffic control to cutting social security checks, from providing support to small business to disease control. And having federal workers who feel good about their jobs and want to go the extra mile means that government will provide better services to the American people.

This year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, is the best place to work in the federal government, as it has been for the last four years. The NRC works hard to ensure that staff skills are used well, and that there are strong and effective leaders who work to empower their staff alongside strong support for diversity and for employees being treated fairly. But two other agencies, the Department of Transportation, or DOT, and the Federal Labor Relations Authority, or FLRA, rose significantly in the rankings in just one year. The reason: Both agencies worked hard to develop innovative new ways to engage with their workers and communicate more directly and interactively the goals of the departments and the strategies for achieving them.

The rankings are based on the 2010 Federal Viewpoint Survey, representing over 263,000 federal workers at 290 federal agencies and subcomponents. The annual ranking of agencies summarizes how agencies compare on the survey, gauging employee morale, compensation, satisfaction, and productivity. Overall, the survey results show that employee satisfaction has gone up across government, with improvements in 68 percent of agencies. Looking at the two agencies that have shown the most improvements helps explain the importance of leadership in improving morale.

Let’s begin with the Department of Transportation, which heads the list of most improved of the large agencies. DOT improved its overall score by 15.8 percent, moving from No. 30 (out of 30) to No. 26. Though still a poor ranking, the jump is attributable to the department’s actions. DOT’s leadership instigated town hall meetings with staff at headquarters and around the country. They provided training for all first-time supervisors. And they included employee satisfaction goals in leaders’ performance plans. The personal leadership of DOT Secretary Ray LaHood in all of these initiatives proved to be important, and it’s clear that he continues to be passionate about improving morale. The newly-launched IdeaHub website, featured in our column “Delegating Up,” is another example of the commitment the agency has to better engaging with its staff.

The most improved small agency in 2010 was the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which showed an impressive 250 percent increase from last year’s score. This moved them from No. 32 on the list (out of 32) to No. 20—a clear jump out of the cellar into the contest. Again, this is no surprise to us at the Center. We spent some time with the FLRA earlier in the year and it was clear that the new chairwoman, Carol Pope, was relentlessly focused on improving the way that the organization worked. She’s worked hard to improve internal communication and build a strong sense of purpose for the organization. But again, she is far from complacent and would be the first to recognize that there remains some way to go.

Inspirational leaders who take motivating their staff seriously deserve recognition. We are pleased that FLRA and DOT were recognized by Best Places to Work for the gains they’ve made. Both agencies obviously need to improve before they are best in class, but their impressive performance this year demonstrates the power of taking action to tackle poor staff morale. It is not easy to improve an agency’s ranking when morale in agencies is going up across the board. So just to maintain a ranking, an agency needs to improve its employee satisfaction. To improve a ranking, its improvements need to exceed those of other agencies.

These annual rankings are useful in a number of other ways. The rankings provide an annual insight on how the federal workforce feels. They direct talented individuals from outside the government toward rewarding careers in public service. And they showcase some of the most attractive places to work for those who wish to use their skills for greater social good.

The Best Places to Work ranking is a vital resource for understanding how the federal government is being managed. Leaders at each agency should use the findings to promote a federal workforce that is talented, energized, and productive. Doing so will help to ensure that the American people get the most out of the 1.9 million people who work in federal government.

Jitinder Kohli is a Senior Fellow at American Progress. His work focuses on government efficiency, regulatory reform, and economic issues. John Griffith is a research associate with the Doing What Works project at the Center. Go to the Doing What Works webpage at the Center’s website to learn more about the project.

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Authors

Jitinder Kohli

Senior Fellow

John Griffith

Policy Analyst

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