- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2015

Homeland Security ranked by far as the worst large federal agency to work for in 2015, according to the annual survey of federal employees released Monday that shows the department continuing a precipitous slide under President Obama.

NASA did the best overall, with more than three-quarters of its employees expressing satisfaction with their job and workplace in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, saw the biggest year-to-year drop.

But Homeland Security was the worst overall, continuing a downward trend that’s seen its satisfaction rate drop from 62 percent in 2010 to 47 percent now, or 5 percentage points below the next-worst.

“To be sure, I am disappointed,” said Department Secretary Jeh Johnson — though he said he saw improvements within his workforce that weren’t reflected in what his employees told the survey. “We will not give up. We know that improving employee satisfaction across a 22-component, 240,000-person department takes time.”

Administered by the Office of Personnel Management, the survey is one of the big tools for taking the temperature of the federal workforce and for letting managers compare how they’re doing with other departments and agencies.

The lists are broken down, with big agencies in one category and small agencies in another.

Among those smaller agencies, the best was the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, at 86 percent satisfaction, and the worst was the African Development Foundation, with an 18 percent satisfaction rating.

Governmentwide, 60 percent of employees reported being satisfied, up 1 percent compared to 2014.

“That score tells us that employees are more satisfied with their jobs, their pay, and their organizations and that they are more likely to recommend their agency to others,” Beth Cobert, the OPM’s acting director, said in a blog posting announcing the new numbers.

Employees also reported they have a growing sense of purpose at their agencies.

“While there is still plenty of room for improvement, there are signs that the administration’s focus on employee engagement is beginning to pay dividends for the workforce and, ultimately, for our customers, the American people,” Ms. Cobert said.

The 84-question survey probes whether employees feel overworked or properly trained, how they feel their managers are doing and whether they feel their pay, advancement opportunities and benefits such as child care and exercise-promotion are up to par.

Full results from the survey will be released later this year, but the OPM released a snapshot of all agencies’ standing on overall satisfaction and engagement level.

Among the 37 large departments and agencies, NASA has always performed well. Rounding out the top five are the Office of Management and Budget, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Credit Union Administration.

The Department of Veterans Affairs ranked fifth-worst, with a 57 percent satisfaction rate — the same as the previous year. The VA has suffered through embarrassing scandals that saw veterans shunted onto secret wait lists, and the department underwent a very public bloodletting in the wake of that embarrassment.

Also in the bottom five were the National Archives, the Small Business Administration and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, with a 52 percent satisfaction rating.

Homeland Security was the lowest on overall satisfaction, and ranked worst or second-worst in four specific yardsticks measures: whether an employee would recommend the organization; whether they were satisfied with their jobs; whether they were satisfied with their pay; and whether they were satisfied with the agency structure.

As the newest department, Homeland Security has struggled on a number of fronts, including trying to figure out its myriad missions and grappling with political pressures on immigration and airport security.

Those pressures have grown tougher under Mr. Obama, and employees’ happiness has suffered at the same time. Satisfaction peaked in 2009, when 66 percent of department employees said they were satisfied with their workplace in the department’s own Annual Employee Survey. The rating has steadily declined since then.

Two agencies within Homeland Security have faced some of the stiffest pressures — the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screenings, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants. Mr. Johnson said the satisfaction slide at both of those agencies appears to have “stabilized after years of marked decline.”

Mr. Johnson said some of his agencies showed marked improvements: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Office of Science and Technology, the National Protection and Programs Directorate, the Management Directorate and his own Office of the Secretary.

And the Coast Guard still scores above the governmentwide average, he said.

“The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are our greatest asset, and I and the other senior leaders of DHS are committed to improving employee satisfaction,” he said. “We will continue our efforts to make DHS a place where all employees feel valued and where their hard work is recognized and rewarded.”

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