Uncle Sam talks a good game when it comes to encouraging his staff to find better ways of serving the public, but the reality is a different story.
That’s the message of a new report that indicates a strong disconnect between the desire of federal employees to innovate and the degree to which innovation is encouraged in their workplaces.
An analysis of survey data by the Partnership for Public Service and the Hay Group found that 91 percent of responding federal employees said, “I am constantly looking for ways to do my job better,” and just 39 percent said, “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” In the middle were the 60 percent who said, “I feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things.”
The average, 63.3 percent, is the government-wide innovation score. Not good.
“The overall government-wide innovation score of 63 percent favorable shows considerable opportunity for government to improve,” the report says. “. . . This suggests federal workers are motivated to drive change through creativity, but need stronger support from their organizations and leaders to do so.”
The Partnership and the Hay Group analysis is based on information from their Best Place to Work in the Federal Government survey and the Office of Personnel Management’s 2010 Employee Viewpoint Survey.
The report looks at what drives federal innovation, and it’s worth noting what did not top the list: money. An employee’s salary, workload and resources were less important than somewhat less-tangible factors.
Six workplace conditions have a high effect on innovation, according to the report, which means that “federal leaders can improve innovation within their agencies by creating an environment in which each of these conditions thrives:
■Employees are recognized for providing high-quality products and services.
●Employees are given real opportunities to improve their skills.
●Employees are involved in decisions that affect their work.
●Employees are given a sense of personal empowerment with respect to work processes.
●Employees are provided with opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills.
●Leaders work to gain employees’ respect.”
Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership, said: “If we’re going to get the job of government done, it’s not going to be done by cutting the government and cutting the workforce. It’s going to be by doing things in a smarter way, and innovation is what’s going to be required.” (The Washington Post and the Partnership have a content-sharing relationship.)
The problem, Stier said, is “you have a workforce that is highly motivated individually to achieve more by doing things in a smarter, better way, but they are not getting the organization support that they need.”
Moira Mack, an Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman, said: “Through collaborative work with agencies, workers and the Labor Management Council, we aim to engage even more federal employees by focusing on the areas identified in the report as the most critical drivers of innovation: engaging employees and supervisors, fostering a culture of leadership and strengthening opportunities for employees and supervisors to improve.”
As my colleague Eric Yoder wrote online Tuesday, the American Federation of Government Employees is preparing for negotiations with the Transportation Security Administration. AFGE has signaled that negotiations might cover topics ranging from passenger assaults on screeners to how job performance is rated.
In June, the union won an election to represent about 44,000 screeners and associated employees.
Preliminary meetings toward an initial contract have been held, and both sides have picked their bargaining teams. But formal negotiations aren’t expected until September or October, said Peter Winch, deputy director for field services and education at AFGE.
Bargaining rights for federal employees are more limited than those of private-sector workers. For example, employees generally cannot bargain over pay or over the terms of basic benefits such as health insurance and retirement annuities. In addition, TSA’s order specified no bargaining over topics including deployment of personnel or equipment, job qualifications and disciplinary standards.
One of the major issues between screeners and the agency has been the job rating system known as PASS, which partly determines pay raises. A survey that AFGE is conducting of screeners asks them to describe the problems they’ve experienced with proficiency testing, evaluations by their supervisors, and salary and bonus decisions.
It is unclear to what extent AFGE will be allowed to bargain over PASS, however, because TSA specifically barred negotiations on “any form of compensation.”
Winch said that many union leaders within TSA already have responded to the survey and that “now we’re trying to get broader input. The survey is drafted around the issues we hear in the airports, what’s really on people’s minds.”