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Best Places to Work: How the "Best" was Done

This week's release of the Parntership for Public Service's Best Places to Work index for 2009 rests on a compilation of data collected from federal workers, a unique group that's challenging to study.

Before the Office of Personnel Management's first Federal Human Capital Study (FHCS) conducted in 2002, very little research had been done on the attitudes of government workers. The first round of the FHCS was conducted at the initiative of OPM, but Congress soon made the practice of annual assessments of federal employees a legal requirement in the National Defense Authorization Act passed in Nov. 2003.

As Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partnership told me, "In the beginning there was a great deal of skepticism in government amongst the leadership that this was a good project. There was some sense that this would be used as a further way to beat up federal agencies."

He noted that attitudes have since changed, "those leaders understand that there's great value in it, that they can use it to better do their own job."

Much of that value, Stier says, comes from measuring performance and job satisfaction among employees of a sector for which there is no tangible, monetary measure of success. Unlike in the private sector, there are no profits or stock prices to guide outsiders in assessing the federal government's workforce. "You don't have those kinds of easy metrics in the public space," Stier said. "As a result if you're going to manage your organization well you need to find other ways to measure it."

And measuring it involves a massive data collection effort. More than 400,000 federal employees were randomly selected to participate in the FHCS, representing 62 agencies and 216 sub-agencies that employ around 97 percent of the executive branch workforce, upwards of 1.6 million workers.

Most of the 212,223 who completed the survey did so online and employees were notified via e-mail that they had been selected to participate, though some were ultimately issued paper questionnaires. Interviewing was conducted in August and September 2008.

Overall, 51 percent of those invited completed the questionnaire, though response rates varied by agency from a low of 35 percent from the Broadcasting Board of Governors up to a high of 79 percent at the Small Business Administration.

Over time, the survey has become a catalyst for government managers to improve satisfaction within their agencies, Stier said. "I don't think there's anything more powerful than what your employees have to say about your organization."

Check out more Post coverage of the index from Joe Davidson, Steve Vogel, and Ed O'Keefe.

By Jennifer Agiesta  |  May 22, 2009; 9:16 AM ET
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The Partnership should dig deeper to find metrics of success in the public sector - if they don't exist the Partnership should be championing their creation. After all, just because Federal employees are satisfied doesn't mean they are producing any outputs or results. Satisfaction measures not linked to outputs is meaningless.

Follow the link to an MSPB report that outlines how a true engagement scale can be linked to actual Federal agency outcomes:

Posted by: fedwatcher | May 22, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

The partnership should be asking, as a standard question, federal employees if they think their survey responses could be traced back to them. I am assuming that when 500,000 federal employees were notified of their selection, the selection was sent to them on their government computer. If this was the case then we have to remember that when a government computer is turned on, the first thing you see is a warning that everything on the computer is subject to monitoring.

Not to sound paranoid but how many people were identified by their agencies as people taking the survey and how many chose not to complete it simply because there could be a record of it on their work computer? I would have worried that if the survery was sent to me that my agency could easily identify me and my responses. I can understand why some people chose to provide a paper response.

Talk to folks and see if computer monitoring isn't a daily concern (otherwise why post the warning?)

Posted by: highexpectations | May 26, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

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