NOAA worker satisfaction plunges; lawmaker proposes move to Interior

The Partnership for Public Service released its latest report on Federal worker satisfaction and, for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the trends are not pretty.

For the fourth straight year, worker satisfaction dropped markedly.  Since 2009, when it received a satisfaction score of 69.8 out of 100 and was considered one of the best places to work in government, its rating has plummeted over 10 points to a middling 58.3.

NOAA's satisfaction score in recent years compared to other sub-agencies (Partnership for Public Service)

NOAA’s satisfaction score in recent years compared to other sub-agencies (Partnership for Public Service)

In sub-categories that address satisfaction in leadership, management, pay, teamwork, training, work-life balance, support for diversity, and other variables, the declines in satisfaction have been more or less evenly spread.

NOAA satisfaction scores over time across a range of variables (Partnership for Public Service)

NOAA satisfaction scores over time across a range of variables (Partnership for Public Service)

The downturn in satisfaction has coincided with a change in political leadership. The 2008 to 2009 period marked the transition from  Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher - who served through much of the Bush Administration (2001 to 2008) – to Jane Lubchenco, Obama’s selection to run the agency (starting in 2009). Lubchenco departed NOAA earlier this year and Kathryn Sullivan has served as the Acting Administrator since.

During Lubchenco and Sullivan’s tenure, NOAA has faced a challenging fiscal environment, replete with sequestration-related budget cuts, a government shutdown, a hiring freeze and reductions in travel and training.  At the same time, it has been criticized for its management of environmental (weather) satellite programs. It was also forced to clean-up a budget scandal at the National Weather Service, which led to the retirement or removal of top officials.

“Among federal agencies, NOAA’s mission is one of the most unique and diverse,” said Ciaran Clayton, NOAA spokesperson.  “Our employees are committed to this mission and strive day in and day out to provide the best scientific data and information available — information that is then used by every community across the country.  We strive to put mission first, and people always, and are constantly looking for ways to improve opportunities for our workforce.”

The drop in worker satisfaction at NOAA has also tracked an overall downturn in satisfaction ratings across the Federal government.

“The 2013 Best Places to Work data present a disturbing picture of federal employees throughout the government who are increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs and workplaces,” the Partnership for Public Service report states. “Government-wide, the federal employee job satisfaction and commitment level dropped for the third year in a row, tumbling 3 points to a score of 57.8 on a scale of 100.”

In contrast to the state of affairs at NOAA and the Federal government overall, satisfaction scores at NASA headquarters have risen over 5 points in a similar time span.

NASA's satisfaction score in recent years compared to other sub-agencies ((Partnership for Public Service))

NASA’s satisfaction score in recent years compared to other sub-agencies ((Partnership for Public Service))

NASA was ranked the top place to work in the Federal government for a second straight year.

“In a year of budget uncertainty and a government shutdown, NASA employees never missed a beat,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

NOAA move to Interior?

Independent of the Partnership for Public Service report, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has  introduced a bill that would move NOAA from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Interior.

“The bill will realize significant savings from the merger or elimination of duplicative programs and administrative and support offices,” a fact sheet on the bill states. “It will combine and coordinate offices with a similar mission.”

The proposed re-organization would simultaneously consolidate the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce into one agency called the Department of Commerce and the Workforce (DOCW).

The White House had also proposed NOAA be moved to Interior in January 2012.

“The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater,” Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address.

Also on Capital Weather Gang

Sunday's atmosphere could be D.C.'s toastiest in December on record