The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Despite Trump, federal employee morale improves under Trump

A report says federal employee engagement has improved under President Trump. (Susan Walsh/AP)

If the top office on my job was unexpectedly filled with a racist, Islamophobe caught boasting about groping women, it would hurt my morale.

Not so, apparently, with many federal employees.

Although President Trump has repeatedly disgraced the nation, not to mention proposing cuts to federal employees’ retirement and their workplaces, the morale of federal workers has gone up on his watch.

So say the data.

The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings released Wednesday by the Partnership for Public Service and the Deloitte consulting firm, indicate, with notable exceptions, the federal government is a better place to work since Trump took office. Overall, there was a 2.1 point increase in 2017 employee engagement over 2016. The 61.5/100 score is the highest since 2011.

The rankings are based largely on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that was conducted in May and June by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). That survey, released in October, also indicated the highest level of employee engagement since 2011, predicting the Best Places findings. But the data’s big picture conflict with the workplace image drawn by many federal employees who have expressed disgust and anxiety over the Trump administration. This year’s increase is part of a three-year upward trend that began under former president Barack Obama. The scores are based on questions from the survey.

Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, explained it this way: “Those agencies that have not been dramatically impacted by changes in mission during the recent presidential transition — NASA, Transportation, HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) — have continued to build on the momentum begun in the Obama Administration to improve employee engagement, while those civil servants at agencies where their mission importance has increased in the new Administration — DHS (Department of Homeland Security), in particular — are seeing dramatically increased engagement scores.  Those agencies with missions that are being reevaluated — State Department, Environmental Protection Agency — have decreased scores, which is a reflection of the uncertainty about how their missions are valued.”

The largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, had no comment.

Noting declines at important agencies, such as the Justice and State departments, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), a Trump critic and federal employee advocate, said the overall score “masks some real exceptions.” Improved rankings at some large agencies, especially the Defense Department, by far the government’s biggest, somewhat skews the general report, he said, “because they are so big and have disproportionate impact.”

Among the Best Places highlights:

  • NASA, for the sixth year running, tops the large agency category.
  • DHS was the most improved large agency. That’s good news even as it remains last in its category.
  • In the agency subcomponent group, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, was the most improved, jumping by 11.5 points since last year. Note: The National ICE Council and National Border Patrol Council were the only federal unions to endorse Trump.

Among the agencies that fell are those that have struggled with threats of staffing cuts and mission change.

  • State suffered its largest single-year drop, including a major fall of 9.2 points in staff views of senior leaders. For the first time since 2011, State was not among the top five large agencies.

Other results include:

  • The best and worst score — The Tennessee Valley Authority Office of Inspector General reigns supreme at 92.1, while the Secret Service wallows with 33.0.
  • OPM and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) push policies affecting the workforce, but they are not model agencies. OMB joined the EPA office in the largest fall from grace in their category, tumbling 7.3 points. OPM’s score dropped and the agency ranks 17 out of 25 in its category. OPM had no comment about their failings or the administration’s larger achievements.

“While we are glad to see the improvement overall, we are certainly disappointed in our score and look to redouble our efforts to improve,” said Coalter Baker, OMB’s deputy press secretary. “We will strive to seek and balance a proper and appropriate work environment so that the dedicated public servants here at OMB can focus on making a positive difference in our country.”

Whistleblowers take note: OMB’s score on a question about employees believing they “can disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal” dropped by 6 points, more than any other agency this year.

OPM initially withheld data on 186 agencies and subcomponents, for first time since the Best Places reports began in 2003. OPM relented Tuesday afternoon in the face of critical questions. Now the Partnership expects to revise the rankings early next year.

That’s a headache, but Max Stier, the Partnership’s president and chief executive, took the high road.

“OPM’s decision to now provide more complete government-wide data will make it easier for agencies to compare themselves to their federal counterparts,” Stier said, “and help Congress and the Trump administration engage in comprehensive oversight of federal workforce management.”

Read more:

[Federal employees more positive about working for Uncle Sam]

[John Palguta, a force behind Best Places in Federal Government reports, retires]

[Feds’ best places to work might not be so good for long]