Washington, D.C.—Rankings of the best places to work in the federal government are colored by the impact of the lingering pay freeze and continuing political attacks on the federal workforce, the leader of the nation’s largest independent union of federal employees said today. Across government, the key measure of employee satisfaction dropped to 60.8 percent, a decline of 3.2 percentage points, to its lowest level since 2003.
“Today our country has the best civil service in the world, but if this disturbing trend continues that will not be true tomorrow,” said President Colleen M. Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). “To remain competitive, respect for federal employees and their contributions should be at the top of the agenda for policymakers.”
Despite the drop in job satisfaction, the NTEU leader stressed that federal employees remain committed to their work and believe it is important to the nation’s well-being.
President Kelley offered this assessment in response to the latest ranking of federal workplaces by the Partnership for Public Service. That civil service advocacy group’s analysis is based on information gathered from federal workers by the Office of Personnel Management in its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
Kelley said that to halt the decline in job satisfaction, it is necessary to end the two-year pay freeze, which has been extended for another three months; take steps to improve federal employee morale; and recognize and appreciate that this significant group of middle class working Americans already has contributed $103 billion—more than any other group in the nation—toward deficit reduction and economic stability.
As to the specifics of the Partnership rankings, Kelley noted that a number of NTEU-represented agencies rated highly, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The FDIC’s high ranking—it is first in the new category of mid-sized agencies—reflects in no small part the agency’s work with NTEU, President Kelley said, particularly in negotiating a compensation package keeping pay competitive with the private sector, and putting in place such positive programs as telework, flexible schedules and training opportunities. Despite that progress, however, workplace issues do remain, including the pressing need for adequate staffing, especially in light of heavy FDIC employee travel schedules.
Meanwhile, at NCUA, where a recent NTEU contract contributed to its most-improved designation, negotiations resulted in an increase in promotion pay; improvements in a savings plan as well as in health, dental and vision insurance; and stronger contract language in other key areas. “When contract negotiations recognize the needs and interests of all parties, everyone gains,” Kelley said, noting, however, that like other federal workers, those at NCUA are under a pay freeze extended into 2013.
The Commerce Department’s NTEU-represented Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) also was highly ranked, with an 80.3 percent job satisfaction score. PTO employees have one of the government’s most flexible work schedules, a major contributor to operating efficiencies.
NRC is another highly-rated NTEU workplace. There, the parties have negotiated a broad range of programs benefitting both employees and their agency, including flexible schedules, expanded telework opportunities and others that reflect the importance of an appropriate work-life balance. Still, there are workplace issues at NRC, with the parties working to resolve differences about the fairness and transparency of an awards program.
Clearly, some other NTEU-represented agencies have not fared as well as those three. Most notably, they are the Treasury Department—where Internal Revenue Service staffing is a key issue; the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has dropped rather sharply from its previous high in years past, in large part because of continuing difficulties in contract negotiations; and Customs and Border Protection, where short staffing is a perennial issue and where the agency simply has not come around to the view that it is in its best interest, and the best interest of the public, to listen to and respect the voices of its employees. CBP’s parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, ranked last among large agencies.
Looking at the overall picture, President Kelley said, “It is now more important than ever that agencies closely examine, take to heart and act on the views of their employees as reflected in the survey and the Partnership rankings. It always has been true, although not nearly often enough acted upon by agencies, that the best way to improve agency performance is to work with employees on the key issue of workplace satisfaction.”
NTEU represents 150,000 employees in 31 agencies and departments.