2020 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings

Introduction

America deserves a federal government that is highly effective—one that is efficient, innovative and responsive to the needs of the public. Our government works best when it has an engaged workforce, good leaders and the processes, structures and information to make smart decisions. The nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service accomplishes its mission by identifying opportunities to make government work better, offering solutions to fix government where it is broken and collaborating with those inside and outside of government to bring about change.

The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings, part of our effort to strengthen the federal workforce and the management of government, offer the most comprehensive assessment of how federal public servants view their jobs and workplaces. The rankings, produced by the Partnership and Boston Consulting Group, provide employee perspectives on leadership, pay, innovation, work–life balance and a range of other issues.

The rankings and accompanying data also give federal leaders a way to measure employee engagement across the federal workforce, as well as at individual departments, agencies and their subcomponents. This serves to alert federal leaders to signs of trouble and provides a roadmap to better manage our government’s most important asset—its employees. At the same time, leaders across the government can learn from the success stories to help improve their own organizations.

This is particularly true regarding the government’s experience dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, with federal leaders stepping up during the deadly public health crisis to find new and better ways to engage employees and achieve their missions. If sustained, many of these initiatives could become the basis for transforming and improving the way government works to better serve the public.

Best-in-class private sector organizations understand that increased employee engagement leads to better performance and outcomes, and federal leaders need to follow suit by placing greater emphasis on improving the workforce and the workplace culture.

A Look Across the Federal Government

 

*The Department of Veterans Affairs does not participate in the FEVS. The government-wide Best Places to Work employee engagement scores from 2003 to 2017 include the views of employees from the VA. The scores from 2018 to 2020 do not include their data. Because the VA represents approximately 18% of the federal workforce, the government-wide scores between 2003 and 2017 should not be compared to scores between 2018 and 2020. 


Federal employees faced formidable challenges in 2020 due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority the nation’s civil
servants working remotely while tens of thousands were on the front lines maintaining the continuity of our government and delivering critical services to the public.

Federal agencies rose to the occasion despite the disruptions and hardships, posting a score of 86.1 out of 100 in the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government COVID-19 category that measures employee views on their organization’s response to the pandemic.

This positive response included employee views 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 during the crisis (85.8); and whether they had leaders who communicated effectively and prioritized their welfare (81.4).

In addition, the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey on which the Best Places to Work rankings and findings are based, showed that 85.4% of employees reported that their work unit “achieved our goals” at least most of the time during the pandemic while 84% said their colleagues cooperated to get the work done.

These responses occurred between mid-September and early November of 2020, with 59% of respondents reporting that they teleworked every day during the peak of the pandemic compared to just 3% before the pandemic.

These findings suggest that most federal leaders understood the needs of their employees and the challenges they faced during this once-in-a-century deadly pandemic, an extremely difficult time, and engaged and supported the workforce in new and innovative ways. This included providing employees with the technology necessary to do their jobs in remote settings, the flexibility to meet their personal needs and greater collaboration within agencies and across the government.

The 2020 experience provides a foundation and 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.

Overall, the 2020 Best Places to Work government-wide engagement score measuring employee satisfaction with their jobs and organizations was 69.0 points out of 100.

Besides the government-wide engagement score, the 2020 Best Places to Work data provides insights into various aspects of the federal employee experience including their views of agency leaders. While employees felt their leaders supported them during the pandemic, additional data based on a set of non-COVID related questions shows that long-standing issues with federal leadership persist in the eyes of the federal workforce.

The 2020 government-wide score for the effective leadership workplace category stood at just 64.2 out of 100. Supervisors drew a rating of 78.0 out of 100, but senior leaders came in considerably lower at 57.8 out of 100. In addition, employees gave their leaders only a score of 57.9 on empowerment, which measures satisfaction with their involvement in work processes and decisions that affect their work.

On other work-related issues, federal agencies posted a score of 75.9 out of 100 for the match between employee skills and agency missions; 75.7 for work-life balance; 72.1 for teamwork; 67.0 for satisfaction with pay; 66.6 for agency efforts to be innovative; and 61.5 for agency efforts to recognize the good work of employees.

In addition, only 42.9% of respondents agreed that “the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work” compared to 66% for the private sector, a 23.1-point gap. Top performing federal agencies like NASA, which in 2020 had a score of 68.2% on this question and topped the private sector, believe that being responsive to employee concerns is a key factor in job and organization satisfaction.

The pandemic demonstrated that pro-active federal leaders had a significant impact on employee engagement. This experience provides a unique opportunity for President Joe Biden and his administration – a once in a generation opportunity–to transform the workplace by building on the lessons of past year and by placing a heightened focus on improving government-wide federal employee job satisfaction and commitment, factors that are critical for a well-functioning government.

How do we calculate the engagement score?
The Best Places to Work engagement score is calculated using a proprietary weighted formula that looks at responses to three different questions in the federal survey. The more the question predicts intent to remain, the higher the weighting.

  • I recommend my organization as a good place to work. (Q. 17)
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job? (Q. 36)
  • Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization? (Q. 38)
METHODOLOGY CHANGES

Due to changes to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, on which the Best Places to Work rankings are based, and the Partnership’s method for calculating the percentage of positive responses to the FEVS questions, 2020 scores should not be compared to previous years. For more information, see the Methodology section.

Government Lags Behind the Private Sector

The private sector employee engagement score for 2020 is 77.0 out of 100, eight points higher than the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government tally, according to data provided by employee research firm Mercer.

The private sector data is based on more than 8 eight million employee survey responses from organizations in a wide variety of industries that were collected between 2016 and 2020. The Best Places to Work data is based on the views of more than 928,000 civil servants across the federal government who participated in employee surveys during 2020.

Federal leaders should understand that the government competes with the private sector for the best talent, and they should endeavor to meet or exceed employee engagement levels seen in the best private sector companies. The best private sector organizations understand that increased employee engagement leads to better performance and outcomes, and federal leaders need to follow suit by placing greater emphasis on improving employee engagement and workplace culture.

Agency Rankings

AGENCIES AT THE TOP

Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky | Creative Commons license

For the ninth year in a row, NASA achieved the number one Best Places to Work ranking among large federal agencies, posting a 2020 score of 86.6 out of 100. The intelligence community ranked second with a score of 76.7 followed by the Department of Transportation at 76.1.

In the midsize category, the Government Accountability Office jumped from third place to first with a score of 89.4. The GAO was followed by the Federal Trade Commission with a score of 89.1, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ranked third with a Best Places to Work score of 87.2.

The top-ranked small agency is the Congressional Budget Office at 92.8 followed by the Office of Special Counsel at 86.5 and the U.S. International Trade Commission at 86.4.

For the fifth time since joining the rankings in 2015, the Office of the Inspector General at the Tennessee Valley Authority is the top ranked subcomponent with a score of 96.2. It is followed by the Office of the General Counsel at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which posted a score of 94.8.

All of these federal agencies far exceeded the 2020 government-wide Best Places to Work employee engagement score of 69.0 out of 100 and either topped or just fell slightly short of the private sector engagement score of 77.0.

AGENCIES AT THE BOTTOM

For the ninth straight year, the Department of Homeland Security ranked last among the large agencies, posting a 2020 Best Places to Work score of 61.1 out of 100. For the third year in a row, the Department of Agriculture with a score of 64.3 and the Social Security Administration with a score of 64.5 were at the bottom of the large agency rankings.

In the midsize agency category, the U.S. Agency for Global Media placed last with a score of 53.0 points followed by the National Labor Relations Board at 54.7 and the Department of Education at 57.9.

The Office of Management and Budget ranked last among 29 small agencies with a score of 54.6, dropping precipitously from a sixth place ranking in 2019. The Corporation for National and Community Service ranked second to last with a score of 55.8 while the International Boundary and Water Commission ranked 27th with a score of 55.9.

For agency subcomponents, the International Broadcasting Bureau, part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, ranked last with a score of 35.5, while the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, ranked second to last with a score of 37.1. Both subcomponents have been at or near the bottom of the rankings for several years.

View the full rankings

About Best Places to Work

The Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings—the most comprehensive and authoritative rating of employee engagement in the federal government—are produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group.

For 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 dev.ourpublicservice.org to learn more. Follow us on social @RPublicService and subscribe today to get the latest federal news and information on upcoming Partnership programs and events, and more.

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.

ADDITIONAL BEST PLACES TO WORK FACTS AND FINDINGS

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 front lines 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 Partnership and BCG found the federal government has a highly mission-focused workforce but needs stronger leadership. 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 agencies receiving the highest ratings for being concerned about employee welfare, job resources, and maintaining continuity of operations during the pandemic were NASA (large agency) 95.1 out of 100; the Federal Trade Commission (midsize 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.

Methodology

The Partnership for Public Service created the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government® rankings in 2003 to provide the most comprehensive rating of employee engagement across federal agencies and their subcomponents. We use the term employee engagement to refer to the satisfaction and commitment of the workforce and the willingness of employees to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results.

The 2020 Best Places to Work rankings include 482 federal agencies and their subcomponents: 17 large agencies, 25 midsize agencies, 29 small agencies and 411 subcomponents. We group agencies by workforce size to provide comparisons of agencies that may face similar management challenges. Large agencies are those organizations with 15,000 or more employees. Agencies with 1,000 to 14,999 employees are included in the midsize category. Small agencies are those with at least 100 but fewer than 1,000 employees. Subcomponents—the subagencies, bureaus, divisions, centers and offices within agencies—need to have at least 100 employees to be included in the rankings. The number of employees was determined by using OPM’s FedScope database at the end of fiscal 2020 unless otherwise noted.

Most of the data used to develop these rankings was collected by the Office of Personnel Management through its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. The survey was administered as a census to all full-time and part-time, permanent, nonseasonal executive branch employees between September and November 2020. It was completed by 624,800 federal workers, for a response rate of 44.3%, a 1.7-point increase from 2019. Visit OPM’s website to learn more about the FEVS methodology.

The rankings also include responses from more than 303,800 additional employees at 12 agencies which were surveyed at the same time and had a response rate of more than 50%. The Congressional Budget Office, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation, Government Accountability Office, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Peace Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution, Tennessee Valley Authority’s Office of the Inspector General, the United States Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Department of Veterans Affairs provided data from their own surveys. In addition, the rankings incorporate responses from employees at the nation’s intelligence agencies, which conducted a similar survey but did not report the number of respondents.

The Partnership changed how it calculates the percentage of positive responses to each FEVS question in 2020. Previously, the Partnership divided the number of positive responses (e.g., the number of respondents who answered “agree” or “strongly agree”) by the total number of people who completed the survey. Beginning in 2020, the Partnership divided the number of positive responses to each question by the number of people who answered that question. This change resulted in smaller denominators, filtering out respondents who skipped questions, and slightly larger percent-positives. Due to methodological changes in calculating the Best Places to Work scores, it would not be appropriate to compare 2020 scores with those of previous years.

The workplace category scores are calculated by averaging the percentage of positive responses to questions across different aspects of the employee experience, including effective leadership, employee skills–mission match, pay, recognition and work–life balance. For 2020, categories were added to reflect employee views related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes employee perceptions of their agency’s performance during the pandemic and the support they received from their agencies and their leaders.

View the full methodology

The Partnership and BCG would like to thank OPM for its excellent administration of its employee survey, without which the Best Places to Work rankings would not be possible.