These 11 agencies prove government can be a best place to work

December 17, 2019

By Max Stier and Danny Werfel

With only 6% of federal employees under the age of 30 and more than one-third of the workforce eligible to retire in the next five years, government is in competition with the private sector to attract the next generation of public servants and the best talent to deliver on its diverse missions. And while government may not always be able to match private sector employers on compensation, there is no reason it cannot offer a competitive employee experience to attract and retain top talent.

The good news is there are many agencies proving that the federal government can provide an experience that rivals the best private sector organizations. The 2019 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government ® data shows that 11 of the 70 large, midsize and small agencies included in the rankings scored higher than the private sector benchmark in 2019.

The annual Best Places to Work rankings, produced by the Partnership for Public Service and BCG, measure employee engagement government-wide as well as at individual departments, agencies and subcomponents. The rankings shine a spotlight on agencies that are successfully engaging employees and provide a means of holding leaders accountable for the health of their organizations.

The 2019 government-wide Best Places to Work employee engagement score is 61.7 out of 100. In contrast, the private sector engagement score is 77.0 out of 100, 15.3 points higher than the government, according to data provided by employee research firm Mercer | Sirota. While this gap is concerning, the 11 agencies in the table below demonstrate that government can beat the private sector.

         2019 Best Places to Work Engagement Scores by Organization

Organization 2019 Engagement Score Difference from Private Sector Agency Type
U.S. International Trade Commission 85.8 +8.8 Small
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 82.8 +5.8 Mid-size
Federal Trade Commission 82.4 +5.4 Mid-size
Government Accountability Office 81.8 +4.8 Mid-size
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 81.5 +4.5 Large
Farm Credit Administration 81.1 +4.1 Small
Peace Corps 80.7 +3.7 Small
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation 79.6 +2.6 Small
National Endowment for the Arts 78.8 +1.8 Small
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 78.1 +1.1 Mid-size
Securities and Exchange Commission 77.4 +0.4 Mid-size
Government-Wide 61.7 -15.3  
Private Sector 77.0   N/A

NASA, the top-ranked large agency for the eighth consecutive year, registered an engagement score 4.5 points above the private sector. Similarly, the best midsize agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, outscored the private sector by 5.8 points. And there are several small agencies, like the Peace Corps and Farm Credit Administration, where more employees reported being satisfied and committed to their work than in the private sector.

But what are leaders of these agencies doing to create such competitive experiences? For one, their data shows that they recognize employees for high-quality performance, an area where government tends to consistently struggle. Together, these agencies outscore government as a whole by an average of nearly 17 points on the question of recognition for good work. Their employees also report greater satisfaction with their leadership, which we know is a key component of engagement.

Ultimately, these 11 agencies show that government can provide an employee experience that exceeds the best private sector companies. It is important to acknowledge these top-performing agencies and help federal leaders at other agencies develop successful strategies for improvement. One such strategy is combining effective leadership with one of government’s built-in advantages – a highly committed, mission-oriented workforce.

The data shows that the vast majority of federal employees are willing to put in extra effort to get a job done, look for ways to do their jobs better and believe the work they do is important. It is critical that agency leaders capitalize on these strengths and find ways to enhance the federal employee experience. The success of our country depends on it.

Max Stier is the president and CEO of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He previously worked at the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Danny Werfel is a partner and managing director at BCG. He previously served as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and controller of the Office of Management and Budget.

The Partnership for Public Service and BCG extend thanks to the Office of Personnel Management for its administration of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and Mercer / Sirota for providing the private sector data used in our analysis. For more information on the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, a joint initiative of the Partnership and BCG, go to bestplacestowork.org.