“Frankly, the most important takeaway for me is our workforce is here for the right reasons,” Margaret Weichert said during an interview in her spacious office across from the White House. She is deputy director for management in the Office of Management and Budget and now doubles as the Office of Personnel Management’s acting director.
“They believe in the work they do,” she added. “They’re willing to put in extra effort to do that work. They feel respected. They feel that they have a purpose.”
Thinking about her experiences in the private sector, Weichert said, “I have never seen numbers like these, and you do not get numbers in the 90s on anything. And we’ve got numbers consistently in the 90s on some pretty powerful things. So that is, I think, compelling.”
But not so compelling that President Trump would recommend a raise for the workforce.
Keep in mind that the person with this high praise for federal employees is the top personnel officer and a leading member of the management team in the Trump administration, which proposed to reward workers by freezing their pay next year and cutting their retirement by $143.5 billion over 10 years — during a booming economy.
Speaking of pay, at the low end of the survey, with 26 percent, was “pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs.” Next in the cellar were three related items all below 40 percent in agreement: “steps are taken to deal with a poor performer” (32 percent), “promotions . . . are based on merit” (37 percent) and “differences in performance are recognized in a meaningful way” (38 percent).
Weichert noted the reams of paper outlining federal efforts to create a workplace based on merit, “and the data say nope. Our people don’t think we did that. It’s really a problem.”
Look for these results to be a key component of her push for pay for performance alternatives to the current General Schedule (GS) pay system. The administration’s proposed $1 billion “Workforce Fund,” to recruit and retain high performers in critical areas, is a step in that direction.
A big part of the problem is leadership. Less than half of the workforce is satisfied with the “policies and practices” of senior leaders. Just over half rate the leadership well on integrity, communication and motivation.
Every year, agency managers stress the importance of the survey’s findings. They sound eager for their shops to rate highly in the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report, which is based on the survey.
But the workforce is skeptical when talk exceeds action.
Employee disappointment with government leadership is indicated by this note of frustration — only 41 percent “believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work.”
That’s reflected in the survey’s response rate. Four out of 10 is good government-wide participation compared with the general response rate for many surveys. But it represents a steady decline, from 50 percent in 2018, for the federal employee canvass.
This year, the annual survey was done as a census, meaning that all full-time, part-time, permanent but not seasonal staffers, 1.47 million of them, were invited to participate. The response rate was 40.6 percent, or 598,003 people, from 82 agencies, who participated from the end of April through June.
The survey indicates that federal employees generally are satisfied with their working conditions. The “overall global satisfaction” rate (ignore the redundancy) was 64, the same as last year and up five percentage points from 2014. That rate is the average of the scores on job satisfaction, pay satisfaction, organizational satisfaction and whether employees would recommend their organization.
“We have actually helped generate a meaningful change in global satisfaction,” Weichert said, “at a time where the very easy trope, very easy narrative was people are really unhappy. I’ve had members of Congress tell me that, but the data does not tell me that.”
They aren’t unhappy, but they also aren’t satisfied.