In a previous article, we discussed the overall rankings of large United States Government (USG) agencies in The 2017 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report. The good news:  employee engagement is improving in USG agencies, up 2.1 points on average in 2017 from 2016. Employee engagement matters, as it’s how leaders interact with employees to promote job satisfaction and commitment toward an agency’s mission.

Here are 6 factors driving employee engagement and the large USG agencies (15,000 or more employees) where leaders understand the importance of them.


Most of us want to work for leaders who empower us to make decisions, keep us informed, and provide opportunities to demonstrate our skills in new ways.  We also want leaders who are fair, have integrity, and to whom we can bring issues and problems without fear of reprisal.

The Best: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) does it best, followed by the Intelligence Community (IC), and in third place, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Most Improved: Though it ranked last, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) improved a full 4.0 points in this category – tied only with the Army.  The Navy, HHS, and the Dept of Interior (DoI) also showed improvements between 3.1 and 3.4.


Most of us want to work in a role that optimizes our talents and skills, with a clear vision of how our efforts contribute to the agency’s mission and priorities. We’d like our work to be worthwhile and ideally, enjoyable most of the time.

The Best: NASA again ranked highest, again followed closely by HHS and the IC.

Most Improved:  DHS also made the biggest leap in this category with a 3.5 point increase, far outpacing the 11 other agencies who improved between 1.0 and 1.9 points.


Most of us appreciate working in an environment where innovation and creative thinking is encouraged – even rewarded. We’re most motivated when we feel empowered to look for new ways to do things better and promote positive change in our organization.

The Best:  The top three agencies were once again NASA in first, with the IC second and HHS following third place.

Most Improved: DHS, still the lowest ranked, was also the most improved with a 3.5 increase. Still five more agencies – the Army, Navy, HHS, the DoL, and the Office of Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff (OSD/JS) – increased their scores by more than 2 points each.


Our qualifications might get us the position, but most of us want to continue to learn and grow professionally. We want regular opportunities to improve our skills to better perform in our current job, as well as bring greater value to our organizations overall.

The Best:  NASA, HHS, and the IC again ranked first, second and third.

Most Improved: The Navy led with an increase in 3.9 points, with the Army and DHS improvements nearly as much at more than 3 points each.


We understand the value of a high-functioning diverse workforce. We want to work in an environment where employees from various backgrounds work well together, and for leaders who are committed building teams that represent many segments of society.

The Best:  NASA ranked first, with the Department of Agriculture ranking second and the IC in third place.

Most Improved: Of all categories, this one showed the most impressive improvement overall, with 13 agencies showing improvement of 2.0 or more points.  And the leaps were significant: 5 of those organizations – DoL, the Department of Commerce, HHS, DHS, and the Army improved more than 4 points.


We want to work for agencies who reward innovative employees and recognize us when we’re producing high-quality results. We expect promotions to be fair and merit-based, and we want opportunities to earn promotions in our organizations.

Highs and Lows: NASA, HHS and Dept of Commerce ranked highest, in first, second, and third place.

Most Improved:   DHS was most improved at 4.1, with the Navy, HHS, and the Army improving their scores between 3.5 and 3.6 points.

At the Top or Climbing?

Serving in an agency that ranks high in employee satisfaction is an obvious goal, but the agencies who are clearly and consistently improving are also worth a look.  DHS was the most improved agency overall and the Army and Navy also improved significantly. While the Air Force and OSD/JS improved more modestly, they still improved. This data can indicate the commitment of leaders in these agencies to strive to be better. That’s encouraging news for professionals in the national security business.

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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.