While Donald Trump makes big headlines with bluster and lies, his political appointees are quietly sabotaging the government by making it difficult for career employees to do their jobs – especially in agencies focused on protecting consumers, workers, students and the environment.
And you can actually measure it.
The annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ratings produced by the Partnership for Public Service track employee engagement and effective leadership by department, agency and subcomponent, showing how they compare to each other — and how they change year-to-year..
After three years during which more than 70 percent of federal agencies improved their ratings, this year the ratings at about 60 percent dropped – in some cases, precipitously.
The biggest drop among midsize agencies – down 25 percent on employee engagement and down 36 percent on senior leadership effectiveness — came at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That’s hardly a surprise, considering that the CFPB was the subject of a must-read but largely overlooked Washington Post article last week, headlined How Trump appointees curbed a consumer protection agency loathed by the GOP.
“You can track the movement of the employee engagement score by the quality of leaders because it’s the leadership that is most, most relevant,” said Max Stier, who heads the partnership.
Right behind CFPB in terms of precipitous drops in employee ratings: the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ratings — derived from the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey – are not a perfect barometer of whether an agency is functioning effectively, but they certainly suffer when employees aren’t allowed to the job they hired on to do.
“It’s not about happy employees,” Stier told me. “It’s about employees who are engaged and thus performing better on behalf of the American people.”
Some of the declines in agency subcomponents were particularly dramatic – although whether that’s due to incompetence or malevolence is hard to say without further reporting.
The subcomponent posting the biggest year-to-year drop is also the one with the lowest ranking overall in 2018: the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office within the Department of Homeland Security. That’s somewhat alarming.
Others with big drops include offices caught in political crosshairs: the Office of the General Counsel and Office of the Administrator at the EPA, the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice, and the offices handling special education and federal student aid at the Department of Education.
Getting the highest rankings for senior leadership among large agencies: NASA, the Departments of Health and Human Services, the Intelligence Community and the Pentagon. The lowest went to the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.
Tomorrow: Stier and University of Texas public policy professor Donald Kettl on reining in political appointees who are out to destroy their agencies.
Below: Midsize agencies ranked by biggest drop in employee engagement: