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Could poor morale ground FAA?

By Ed O'Keefe

The Federal Aviation Administration ranks so low on government employee satisfaction surveys that the agency may struggle to retain and recruit employees in the next four years, according to a new government audit.

Thirty-eight percent of FAA employees will be eligible to retire in 2013, the Government Accountability Office said Monday in a new report. The agency ranked 214th out of 216 agencies in the 2009 Best Places to Work rankings -- a poor showing that could make it especially hard to recruit potential hires qualified to help implement the agency's NextGen transportation system.

FAA employee responses to governmentwide surveys suggest they enjoy their work, but the responses are "considerably less positive than the rest of the federal government" regarding issues that impact recruitment, retention and motivation, GAO said.

"The percentage of FAA employees' positive responses regarding communications, involvement in decisions that affect their work, and respect for their leaders were up to 19 points below those of the rest of the federal government," according to the report.

FAA is working on plans that could eventually improve employee satisfaction, but several details remain unresolved, GAO said.

The report was requested by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He blames the National Air Traffic Controllers Association for most of the agency's problems, noting that the union's new contract with the agency gives big salary increases to air traffic controllers at the expense of other agency employees not covered by the union.

Mica said the contract "shows that one group can use its political clout to extract huge salary increases, leaving behind thousands of other highly qualified FAA employees, at a time when the rest of the economy is suffering massive job losses and pay freezes." Mica's anti-union sentiments should come as no surprise, since Republican members regularly criticize the influence that labor unions have over agency operations and budgets.

The union and FAA reached an agreement last summer after a lengthy negotiation process that involved a mediation panel established to resolve long-simmering disputes about pay and leave. The new contract gave NATCA members greater scheduling flexibility and also revamped the agency's grievance process.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | December 1, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Oversight, Workplace Issues  
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