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Homeland Security Employees Feeling the Blues

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The employees have spoken.

What they have said about job satisfaction has gratified four relatively small federal agencies and sent a jolt through the Department of Homeland Security, which scored last or almost last in job satisfaction, leadership and workplace performance.

The ratings came from the 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, announced by the Office of Personnel Management yesterday. About 221,500 federal employees responded to the survey and provided a sense of what they think of their agencies as places to work.

The results were surely frustrating for Homeland Security, which has struggled to pull together 22 agencies in one of the government's largest reorganizations, endured endless criticism for its handling of Hurricane Katrina and suffered through high turnover in its leadership ranks.

Nearly 10,400 Homeland Security employees participated in the survey and gave the department essentially rock-bottom scores in key job satisfaction, leadership and management areas when stacked up against 35 other agencies in the survey.

"Obviously, we are somewhat disappointed," Paul A. Schneider, the department's undersecretary for management, said in an interview. He said the department's secretary, Michael Chertoff, and its deputy secretary, Michael P. Jackson, take the survey results seriously and are focused "on turning this thing around."

Chertoff has asked an outside group of advisers to suggest a strategy for creating a stronger common culture at the department, Schneider said. He said he would join Chertoff and Jackson in analyzing the survey results to understand problem areas.

Those areas appear to include communicating with and getting feedback from employees and how the department rewards employees for their accomplishments, Schneider said. He called the survey results "a wake-up call for the leadership that we have to pay attention to these basic communication skills."

On the bright side, Schneider said he was encouraged that Homeland Security employees say they like their jobs, think their work is important and find their co-workers to be cooperative and supportive. Those responses, he said, are "a strong foundation for building on."

To a large extent, the 2006 responses by Homeland Security employees closely track what employees said in 2004, an indication that the department may face a significant morale problem in some of its bureaus. Schneider said the response rates varied dramatically among bureaus and that "we have a lot of work to do to understand where we have these problems."

Linda M. Springer, director of OPM, released the results at a briefing at the National Press Club. She highlighted several agencies that scored well in four indexes created by OPM but said she would not comment on any other agencies.

Springer said the survey results are intended to help employees know where they stand on personnel issues and give managers some insights into workforce problems that need quick attention.

The Office of Management and Budget, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation finished in the top 10 for job satisfaction, leadership and knowledge management, results-oriented performance culture and talent management, Springer said.

Other agencies that won high marks from their employees included the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, General Services Administration, National Credit Union Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission, Social Security Administration, Agency for International Development and the departments of State and Commerce.

Congress Votes on Raise

The fiscal 2007 funding resolution, scheduled for a House vote today, would maintain President Bush's plan to provide an average 2.2 percent pay raise to the federal workforce this year.

The resolution would allocate $900 million to help agencies pay for half the cost of the pay raise, with agencies expected to absorb the remaining cost through reductions in overhead and other accounts, House Democratic aides said. The allocation for the pay raise breaks with the usual practice, which is to not provide any funding for civil service raises.

Aides said the resolution also provides enough money to prevent layoffs at agencies, including the Justice Department, Social Security Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.

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