The latest annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” survey results are in and they are dropping a big lump of coal in the stocking of the American body politic. The ratings reflect a steady multi-year decline in employee satisfaction, especially in environmental agencies such as EPA and Interior where morale is now at its lowest point since these surveys started.
Sure, federal employees have lots of reasons to feel blue – sequestrations, pay freezes, a hostile Congress and endless gridlock – but what they are most ticked off about is the poor quality of their own management. One of the most striking survey results is the plummeting confidence in and respect for agency leaders and top managers. Here’s a telling slice from the 400,000-employee survey:
The positive response to the statement “My organization’s senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity” fell from 64% in 2011 to 35% in 2014.
Last week, President Obama gave a pep talk to a gathering of the Senior Executive Service, telling them “I want you to know that I’ve got your back.” He then outlined new recognition awards that some have dismissed as lame and potentially counterproductive.
In our view, President Obama should also devote some attention to a portion of managerial anatomy below their backs. Nothing would do more for employee morale than to see top managers held to account for doing a bad job. We should start with –
- Mandatory follow-up to find managers retaliating against whistleblowers. In places like VA, whistleblowers exposed horrendous conditions and suffered professional exile but few of those responsible managers have had their career paths affected one whit;
- Making employee assessments the key component of manager ratings and awards – no one knows the true merit of managers like those being “managed”; and
- Instituting the radical practice of having manager personnel files contain permanent notations of any decisions found illegal in federal court. Currently, managers sign off on flagrant violations of law without even a reprimand after an expensive lawsuit has nullified their action.
Woes of the National Park Service
Speaking of poorly managed agencies, the National Park Service appears to be careening toward a fiscal meltdown. Consider that NPS has recently –
- Assessed 88 parks almost $50 million to help pay off a $200 million debt owed to a single concessionaire at the Grand Canyon. Already parks are cutting services to pay off this debt;
- Directed all major parks to raise fees right now even as they reduce services; and
- Abruptly fired (it appears) its chief fundraiser in the months leading up to its biggest fundraising and outreach effort in history to celebrate its centennial in 2016. His replacement off the pitifully thin management bench is a park superintendent who is prohibited by law from soliciting funds. He’ll be a hell of a fundraiser.