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Why does the FBI rate high and the Secret Service score low on morale?

Secret Service personnel outside the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Among federal agencies, the FBI and the Secret Service have the highest profiles.

They each have a long, proud history, albeit with some serious dents along the way, catching mobsters or protecting presidents. But they are not similar when it comes to their rankings among employees.

FBI employee engagement and morale scores are high. Secret Service scores are not.

That’s the tale of two agencies told by the annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government study, published by the Partnership for Public Service, a good-government organization that focuses on the workforce. Using the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the study examines issues affecting federal employees in agencies across the government.

Morale in the Secret Service, plagued by a series of scandals and blunders in recent years, has fallen sharply. It ranks 319th out of 320 agencies in its overall Best Places score for 2015. That’s a big drop from 2011, when it was ranked 94th out of 240, and 2007, when it placed 66th out of 222.

The agency is working to turn around that sinking trajectory.

Director Joseph Clancy has outlined three priorities for his workforce — increasing staffing, expanding training and boosting morale.

“I am pleased to say that we have made significant progress on all three of these priorities,” he told employees in an agency-wide video message in January.

Among other things, the agency said it has “re-tooled and kick-started our dormant hiring process,” hiring hundreds of agents, uniformed officers and others.

Unfortunately, a close examination of the 2015 Best Places report paints a different picture.

The Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte Consulting took a deeper dive into 12 federal law enforcement agency ratings in a report being released Thursday. It shows the FBI at the top, with a score of 69.9, well above the last-place Secret Service, which comes in at a lowly 33.4. By comparison, the median score for law enforcement agencies is 62.2 and the government-wide score is 58.1. Scores are calculated from questions in the viewpoint survey.

The report looks at areas identified as “top challenges facing law enforcement,” including workplace wellness and communicating in a “need to know” environment.

Workplace wellness can be difficult for law enforcement officers because of their long and sometimes erratic hours. In addition to a “tough guy” workplace culture, the report said, officers “encounter suspicious, dangerous and stressful situations that can easily pose a challenge to their health, wellness and the stability of their family life. This dynamic can affect the workplace as a whole, and even colleagues who are not on the front lines.”

The FBI recognizes this and makes available a number of resources to assist its staffers, “including help from psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and even a chaplain,” the report said.

That is one reason the FBI scores high (though below the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service) on work-life-balance topics, which include how supervisors support the need of employees to balance work and other life issues, whether the workload is reasonable and whether staffers have sufficient resources to do the job.

On these points, the Secret Service ranks dead last among law enforcement agencies.

It’s also at the bottom on communicating in a need-to-know atmosphere.

In its examination of workplace communication practices, the Best Places study used three questions from the viewpoint survey — how well managers communicate the agency’s goals and priorities, how managers promote communication among units and how satisfied employees are with information received from management — to determine how well the agencies communicate with employees. The FBI’s score on those questions was 56.2, compared with 28.1 for the Secret Service.

FBI Director James Comey “has made a point of visiting all 56 field offices to talk to employees, assess morale and leadership, and he has prioritized communication both at headquarters and at the field offices nationwide. Each leader also is rated on communication through FBI internal employee surveys,” according to the report. “In contrast, less than one-third of the employees at the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection are satisfied with the communication they receive from their leadership.”

Clancy said the Secret Service plans to expand communication with staffers through town-hall meetings, video teleconferencing and office visits.

“My vision for this organization retains our focus on mission success but adds to it the importance of the individual employee,” Clancy told colleagues. “. . . You will see a much different agency in the coming year and each year thereafter. We need you to be part of this renewal.”

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