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2020 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings show impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the federal workforce

June 29, 2021

The annual analysis by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group offers insights into the federal employee experience, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce and provides lessons about the future of federal work.

WASHINGTON – Federal agencies rose to meet the enormous challenges created by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, providing personal and work-related support to employees, and finding new and innovative ways to deliver critical public services, according to the 2020 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® data.

The Best Places to Work findings, released today by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group, suggest that the majority of federal leaders understood and met the needs of the workforce during an extremely difficult time.

“The 2020 Best Places to Work data paints a picture of agencies that demonstrated agility and found creative ways for employees to successfully deliver on their missions in mostly remote settings while giving them the flexibility to meet their personal needs,” said Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service.

“This experience provides a unique opportunity for President Joe Biden and his administration to build on the lessons of the past year by placing a heightened focus on engaging employees and by addressing their workplace concerns, critical factors necessary for a well-functioning government,” Stier said. “The response to the pandemic also provides a pathway for the future of federal work that could involve greater reliance on telework, enhanced use of technology for internal operations and for the improved delivery of services to the public.”  

Collectively, federal agencies posted a score of 86.1 out of 100 in the new Best Places to Work in the Federal Government COVID-19 category that measures employee views on the support they received during the pandemic and their work unit’s ability to deliver on the mission.

This positive response included employee opinions on whether their organizations supported their mental and physical well-being during the pandemic (88.6); whether they received the resources they needed to do their work (88.6); whether their agencies were able to successfully deliver on their missions in the midst of the crisis (85.8); and whether they had leaders who communicated effectively and prioritized their welfare (81.4).

Overall, the 2020 Best Places to Work government-wide employee engagement score was 69.0 points out of 100. This score, which measures employee satisfaction with their jobs and organizations, fell short of the private sector employee engagement rating of 77.0. The private sector data from employee research firm Mercer includes more than 8 million survey responses collected between 2016 and 2020 from a range of companies and industries.

Only 22 of the government’s 71 large, mid-size and small agencies included in the Best Places to Work rankings scored above the private sector this year, including NASA, the Government Accountability Office, and the Peace Corps.

“The 2020 data makes clear that the federal government still has a lot of work to do to improve its competitiveness with the private sector as an employer of choice. The government must strive to meet or exceed the private sector when it comes to employee engagement,” said Stier.

On a positive note for the government, 84.1% of federal employees said the people they work with cooperate to get their jobs done compared to 78.0% in the private sector, a 6.1 point difference. The surveys also show that 67% of federal employees are satisfied with their pay compared to 54% in the private sector, a 13-point difference in favor of the government.

“This past year we turned to the public sector to navigate us through an unprecedented crisis,” said Danny Werfel, North America Public Sector Leader for Boston Consulting Group. “Through the highs and lows, one constant was the agility and resilience of career government employees. It is a reminder of the stakes if we fail to invest in our federal workforce and create an environment for them to succeed.”

The top ranked Best Places to Work federal agencies in 2020 include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has earned the top spot among large agencies for the ninth consecutive year. Among mid-sized agencies, the Government Accountability Office placed first followed by the Federal Trade Commission. The Congressional Budget Office topped the chart for small agencies while the Office of Inspector General at the Tennessee Valley Authority recorded the highest score among subcomponents.

Among the agencies that lost ground in the Best Places to Work rankings are the Department of Health and Human Services, which moved from second in 2019 to fourth in 2020 among large agencies; the U.S. Agency for International Development, which slipped from 14th to 19th in the mid-sized agency category; the Office of Management and Budget, which fell from sixth place to 29th among small agencies; and Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Department of Homeland Security, which moved from the top 25% of subcomponents in 2019 to the bottom 25% this year. 

The top five agencies in each of the four groupings plus agencies with leading COVID-19 category scores will be honored at a virtual event on Tuesday, June 29, from 9:00 to 10:00 am ET. The event will feature remarks by Cabinet secretaries and spokespeople from the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group. Registration for the event is available here.     

Among the federal organizations to take top honors are:

TOP FIVE LARGE AGENCIES
#1National Aeronautics and Space Administration
#2Intelligence Community
#3Department of Transportation
#4Department of Health and Human Services
#5Department of Commerce
TOP FIVE MIDSIZE AGENCIES
#1Government Accountability Office
#2Federal Trade Commission
#3Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
#4Securities and Exchange Commission
#5National Science Foundation
TOP FIVE SMALL AGENCIES
#1Congressional Budget Office
#2Office of Special Counsel
#3U.S. International Trade Commission
#4Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
#5Farm Credit Administration
TOP FIVE SUBCOMPONENTS
#1Office of Inspector General (TVA)
#2Office of the General Counsel (FERC)
#3Bureau of Competition – All (FTC)
#4Office of Support Operations (SEC)
#5Directorate for Biological Sciences (NSF)

For a complete list of this year’s rankings and scores for all the agencies and subcomponents for which we have data, please see attached and visit bestplacestowork.org.

Key Best Places to Work Facts and Findings

  • The 2020 Best Places to Work rankings include the views of employees from 482 federal agencies and subcomponents. This includes 17 large federal agencies, 25 midsize agencies, 29 small agencies and 411 subcomponents.
  • The  Best Places to Work data shows that effective leadership remains the key driver of employee engagement as it has been every year since the rankings were launched in 2003. The 2020 government-wide effective leadership score is only 64.2 out of 100, with senior leaders registering a score of just 57.8.
  • During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 59% of the federal survey respondents reported teleworking every day compared to just 3% before the pandemic. In addition, 78.4% of the respondents reported being satisfied with the telework program at their agency.
  • The Office of Management and Budget dropped from sixth place in the 2019 small agency rankings to last place in 2020 among 29 agencies. OMB’s score of 54.6 out of 100 was in sharp contrast to its Capitol Hill counterpart, the Congressional Budget Office, which placed first among small agencies with a score of 92.8.
  • Two agencies on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had vastly different employee experiences in 2020. NIH remained steady in the rankings, recording a Best Places to Work score of 81.7 out of 100 and placing 63 out of 411 agency subcomponents. The CDC had a score of 72.4, dropping from 81 in the 2019 rankings to 192 in 2020.
  • The agencies receiving the highest ratings for being concerned about employee welfare, job resources, and maintaining continuity of operations during the pandemic were National Aeronautics and Space Administration (large agency) 95.1 out of 100; the Federal Trade Commission (mid-size agency) 96.4; and the Farm Credit Administration (small agency) 97.2.
  • Based on how their agencies handled the COVID-19 work experience, 73.0% of survey respondents said they believe their organization will respond effectively to future emergencies.

The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, offer the most comprehensive assessment of how federal public servants view their jobs and workplaces, providing employee perspectives on leadership, pay, innovation, work-life balance and other issues. Most of the data used to develop the Best Places to Work scores and rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which was administered from Sept. 14 to Nov. 5, 2020 to permanent executive branch employees. Additional employee survey data was collected from 12 agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Peace Corps. The rankings also incorporate responses from employees at the nation’s intelligence agencies. This is the 15th edition of the Best Places to Work rankings, which began in 2003.

Due to changes to the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the Partnership’s method for calculating scores, the 2020 Best Places to Work results cannot be compared to previous years. To learn more about the Best Places to Work methodology, visit bestplacestowork.org/about/methodology.

During the past 19 years, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service has been dedicated to making the federal government more effective. We work across administrations to help transform the way government operates by increasing collaboration, accountability, efficiency and innovation. Visit ourpublicservice.org to learn more. Follow us on social @PublicService and subscribe today to get the latest federal news, information on upcoming Partnership programs and events, and more.   

Boston Consulting Group

BCG is a global management consulting firm dedicated to advising clients in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. We partner with our clients to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their challenges and transform their enterprises so that they achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations and secure lasting results. In our work with the federal government, BCG is recognized for bringing commercial insights and best practices to our public sector clients. To learn more, visit bcg.com.

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