The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government – And What That Means for Cleared Professionals


The Partnership for Public Service recently released its annual report ranking the Best Places to Work in the U.S. Government.  Analyzing information from the Office of Personnel Management’s 2017 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey FEVS, the Partnership and Deloitte quantify employee opinions about their workplace, including leadership, employee engagement and empowerment, innovation, and other factors. They also offer deeper analyses to help agency leaders formulate improvement plans.

ranking the best federal offices

The rankings reflect an index score between 1 and 100 that reflect three overall employee opinions:  how satisfied employees are with their job, how satisfied they are with their organization, and how likely they are to recommend their agency as a good place to work.   The 2017 report measured 410 agencies in three categories – large at 15,000 or more employees, midsized at 1,000 to 14,999, and small at 100 to 999.  This article will focus on the large agency category, where a sizeable number of national security positions in the USG reside.

 The Best places to work

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) tops the list for the 6th year in a row. NASA also continues its consistent decade -long improvement trend, with a 2.3-point increase in its index score from 2016. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a not-so-close second with an index score of 70.4, lagging 10 points behind NASA’s 80.9.  However, HHS showed a 4.0 improvement since last year, one of the four most significant improvements among the large agencies. The Department of Commerce is a close third, with an index score of 69.2, and an increase of 1.3 points since 2016.

The worst places to work

At 18, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is at the bottom of the list, where it has been for a few years. However, for the past three years DHS has consistently improved its score – this year by 6.2 points, which is the biggest improvement of all large agencies in 2017. The Department of Veterans Affairs was ranked 17. With a .6 decline in its index score, it’s one of 5 agencies to see their score drop from the previous year. The Air Force landed in spot 16, though it did increase its index score of 1.4, which is worth noting for an agency whose score has been up and down since 2009.

National Security Sectors:

Of the large agencies commonly known to contribute to national security, only the Intelligence Community (IC) and Department of State (DoS) are in the top half of the list.  The IC ranked 5, though its overall employee satisfaction dropped slightly by .4 points. DoS landed at 8 on the list, but its index scored decreased 2.8 points, the most significant decline of all large agencies. Other defense agencies join the Air Force and DHS in the bottom half of the list.  The Navy ranked 10, the Army ranked 13, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and other Defense Field Activities ranked 15, just ahead of the Air Force.  But like DHS and the Air Force, all three of these agencies increased their index score. The Navy increased a solid 3.1 points and the Army increased and impressive 4.6 points, both continuing their 3-year records of consistent improvements.  The OSD/Joint Staff/Field Agencies increased a modest 1.4 points, in line with its steady upward trend the past 4 years.

What it Means to Your Job Search:

Should you avoid working in lower-ranked agencies?  Far from it.  Things aren’t great in some, but they are improving in most. Most of the large agencies are showing signs of consistent progress.  And ask around before you rule out a specific agency. Many employees in both VA and DHS are highly satisfied with their jobs and believe their teams are led by professionals who value, engage, and empower employees.  But it might mean that if you work in a lower-ranking agency, you should be ready to find unconventional ways to innovate and derive your job satisfaction from other sources besides your organizational leadership. Also, support those who are inspiring positive change in that organization, because the numbers say it’s happening.  In truth, these approaches are part of anyone’s professional journey, wherever you happen to work.


Melissa Jordan is an Executive Writer at a US Government agency. With more than 20 years in professional communication and over 16 years of experience working in cross-cultural environments, her most valuable lessons have been learned by trial and error.

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