The Partnership for Public Service released its 2012 “Best Places to Work” rankings Thursday, providing positive news for some federal agencies and giving others reason for self-reflection.

We know NASA ranks as one of the best places to work and the Department of Homeland Security ranks as one of the worst. But how does the partnership come up with its numbers?

The broadest measurement of employee satisfaction in the report is the index score, which reflects worker sentiments in three areas:

1.) Willingness to recommend their organization as a place to work

2.) Overall satisfaction with their jobs

3.) Overall satisfaction with their organization

The scores range from 0 to 100, based on the percentage of positive responses in those areas.

Beyond index numbers, the partnership ranks each agency in more specific categories that measure workplace environment.  Those scores are calculated by averaging the percentage of positive responses in 10 areas that include leadership, pay, advancement potential, employee-support programs, work mission.

The data for all these scores comes largely from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, a questionnaire that executive-branch agencies have to offer their employees as a  matter of law.

The law does not require legislative agencies to issue employee-satisfaction surveys, but some, such as the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office, do so anyway. Those that participate must conduct surveys that follow the partnership’s criteria: A response rate of more than 50 percent, a certain sample size, and inclusion of the three index questions.

Lara Shane, vice president for research and communications for the partnership, said a growing number of organizations volunteer to take part in the ranking program in order to use the scores as a management tool.

“I think those agencies are really committed to improving their employees’ satisfaction,” Shane said. “They understand that being included in the rankings is a powerful way to demonstrate their commitment and track their progress.”

All told, about 700,000 workers from 362 agencies responded to the surveys, creating a sample size that represents 97 percent of the federal workforce.

The partnership has produced its rankings report since 2003. This year, the group added a new category for mid-sized organizations. Previous reports divided the agencies into large and small.

Large agencies are those with more than 15,000 full-time, permanent employees; small agencies are those with 1,000 to 14,900 workers of the same type; and small agencies are those with at least 100 but fewer than 1,000.

The partnership this year also created an online tool that allows users to compare agencies across categories and demographics.

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