Those who work outside of the federal government often love to think that life is easier when you’re always in the room where it happens. How could the job get any better for the federal employee? They have job security, a decent pension, endless trainings, and old technology. Truly, life couldn’t be any better. But rather than just say that federal employees can feel disgruntled or provide anecdotal examples, it helps to have actual numbers to back up just how unhappy many federal employees are. You might think that it’s not a big deal for feds to be frustrated or that federal employees just need to be happy they have a good job. That may have worked over 50 years ago, but when the federal government has a recruiting problem and desperately needs younger talent, the narrative has to change.

According to the 2021 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings and data released today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG), federal employees are still feeling the challenges of the pandemic and the weird limbo dance between remote work and back-to-the-office plans. The rankings showed an overall engagement and satisfaction score of 64.5 out of 100, representing a 4.5-point decrease from 2020.

During the survey period, tens of thousands of civil servants faced uncertainty about returning to the office after more than a year and a half working remotely part or full time. At the same time, a sizable portion of the workforce (especially those with a security clearance) remained on the front lines performing critical public services as the health crisis persisted. 

The sizable drop in employee engagement and satisfaction came during President Joe Biden’s first year in office, during which the administration saw only 55% of its nominations requiring Senate confirmation fully confirmed. The leadership vacancy problem presents a major challenge for the administration. If federal employees are really the backbone of government, then it’s not acceptable to have so many open billets surrounded by unhappy employees.  

“There has never been a time in which the capabilities of our government are more critical to our health and safety as they are today,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Public servants are on the front lines of every major challenge facing our country and securing the organizational support they need to be successful is in the nation’s best interest.” 

As federal agencies place focus on recruiting a younger generation of employees, workers under the age of 30 scored high on a range of workplace issues except for pay satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the younger generation is the most dissatisfied with their compensation. It’s possible to attract younger talent with the opportunity to support a cause, but when you don’t pay them more, the talent gap widens. Right not, roughly 7% of the federal workforce is younger than 30.

Although the private sector has faced many of the same workplace issues as the government during the pandemic, data provided by employee research firm Mercer found the 2021 private sector employee engagement and satisfaction score to be 79.1 out of 100 among its client survey participants, 14.6 points higher than the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government index. 

NASA leads the 2021 Best Places to Work Rankings for large agencies- holding that top spot for 10 consecutive years. The 2021 rankings showed marked improvement at several federal agencies, which can offer a roadmap for federal leaders of what is working and how to create a rewarding and safe employee experience during this volatile time. The rankings also shed light on the agencies with both long-standing and new management challenges. The Department of Homeland Security ranked last among 17 large agencies for the 10th straight year. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission fell from its number two spot in 2020 to 22nd place in the midsize rankings.

Top Federal Agencies

For the agencies who are performing and seeking to improve, they will be honored at an event on Wednesday, July 13, at 8:30 a.m. at the National Press Club. The event will feature remarks by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller, and spokespeople from the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group. 

Top Five Large Agencies

  1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (84.5/100)
  2. Department of Health and Human Services (74.4/100)
  3. Department of Commerce (73.7/100)
  4. Intelligence Community (73.4/100)
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs (70.2)

Top Five Midsize Agencies

  1. Government Accountability Office (89.8/100)
  2. National Science Foundation (86.0/100)
  3. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (84.1/100)
  4. General Services Administration (82.4/100)
  5. Securities and Exchange Commission (82.0/100)

Top 5 Small Agencies

  1. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (85.6/100)
  2. National Endowment for the Humanities (84.9/100)
  3. U.S. Office of Special Counsel (84.8/100)
  4. U.S. International Trade Commission (80.4/100)
  5. Surface Transportation Board (79.2/100)

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.