Is low employee morale 'compromising' the federal government?

Friday - 3/28/2014, 10:58am EDT

In the wake of across-the-board budget cuts, furloughs and slim — or no — annual pay raises, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says he's concerned about a nose-dive in federal-employee morale.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is now asking the Government Accountability Office to look into recent trends in feds' job satisfaction, "including possible root causes and steps the federal government can take to improve engagement," according to a March 27 letter Cummings sent to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Also signing the letter were Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), ranking member of the subcommittee on the federal workforce, and Gerry Connolly, ranking member of the subcommittee on government operations.

"The last few years have been challenging for federal employees," the letter stated. "They have endured a three-year pay freeze, unpaid furloughs and a government shutdown."

The Office of Personnel Management's 2013 Employee Viewpoint Survey, released last November, noted a sharp drop in employees' satisfaction last year. The Partnership for Public Service, which uses the results of the OPM survey to compile its Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, has also found that feds' satisfaction is lagging behind their private-sector counterparts.

The lawmakers are concerned declining satisfaction "may be compromising the federal government's ability to serve the American people," according to the letter.

The letter asks GAO to study:

  • Recent trends in federal employee morale and engagement broken out by grade level, position and other demographic factors

  • Possible root causes for the trends in employee morale

  • Impacts of employee morale on recruitment, retention, employee productivity and agency performance

  • How agencies are responding to the results of the Employee Viewpoint Survey

  • What help OPM is offering, to assist agencies in improving employee engagement

  • Lessons learned from agencies that have improved employee morale

  • Efforts to implement the President's fiscal 2015 management agenda

Cummings and Lynch are also cosigners of a bill introduced by Connolly earlier this week that would grant federal employees a larger pay raise in 2015 than the one proposed by President Barack Obama. The Federal Adjustment of Income Rates, or FAIR, Compensation Act would provide a 3.3 percent raise next year. The administration has proposed a 1 percent pay bump.

Senate Democrats are also probing federal pay and morale issues.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate subcommittee with oversight of the federal workforce, plans to hold a hearing in May that will probe whether federal pay is keeping pace with the private sector and ways to address declining federal morale.

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