Federal Workforce Survey 2023

The Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group has released data and rankings for their annual “Best Places to Work” report on the federal government.

US Forest Service: 406th out of 432 agencies and divisions. USDA: 12th out of 17 major agencies.

BLM: 348th. Interior: 9th of 17 major agencies.

EPA: 7 out of 27 midsize agencies.


25 thoughts on “Federal Workforce Survey 2023”

  1. Whoa! Looks like the FS is trending backward again. Seems the troops are unhappy over their working conditions and such.

    Back in the day, about 2009, I was a DR on a fairly large RD when the results were smeared all over our faces by our always friendly (?) senior leaders. Of course I jest; the senior leaders (most senior) always seemed butt hurt over the poor performance of we lowly field folks. So, I asked my boss if I could resurvey with only our 50+ employees on our RD, something just didn’t seem right. Of course my boss told me not to do it, the Union would be upset and it just may be inappropriate. I called the Union Steward and asked him, he said he didn’t care, so I resurveyed.

    The results looked like two different Agencies; my local results (same questions) were really good! I came up as a grunt, so I understood the mood of the local folks and found my assumptions quite spot on. Seems the worst “marks” were attributed to what the senior leaders were constantly up to….. and generally it was up to no good!

    Probably, not much has changed…..

    • Jim, I don’t really believe any of this stuff. Once in Region 2 we did an employee survey with questions that were specifically helpful to leaders as to specific concerns and things they could do to make life better (aside from the impossible, like “get rid of ABQ Service Center>”

      It turns out they thought their bosses were great but the higher the level away from them the less they thought of them… not particularly based on any experience, but decisions they didn’t agree with. Which could have come from political folks and not the FS folks.

      Anyway, we did a lot of work on the survey.. but I couldn’t find any record of it.. I wonder how much things have changed. Julie Schaefers headed up the effort and did quite a lot of work. I wonder if someone has the records?

      • Sharon, exactly on point; I probably didn’t do a good enough job of delving deeper into our findings. I/we found the exact same thing, mostly politically appointed, or highly anointed, resulting in see-saw, mostly discretionary, emphasis items on the menu.

        I bet Julie might have some of that history but I no longer have her contact information….

        • Current employees tell me that there is a group who is doing Regional surveys and they have done one for R1.. WEPO.. the Work Environment and Performance Office and they are also part of the FEVS Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey done by OPM ..

          “2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey Results The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), is a survey completed by the Office of Personnel
          Management (OPM) which provides an opportunity for employees to share their voices and feedback to the Forest Service. OPM has released the results of the 2022 FEVS. Unit level reports, in PDF and Excel formats, are available in BOX: 2022 FEVS Results. As an agency, we increased our response rate to 43%, our highest response rate since 2017. Our Employee Engagement score, one of the indices calculated by OPM, is at 66%; while the Performance Confidence Index (how we feel about the work done in our teams) is at 79%; the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Index is at 67%; and the Global Satisfaction Index is at 51%. A new question, “It is important to me that my work contribute to the common good,” is our highest scoring question, with 91% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing. The 2022 survey includes additional questions focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; employee development; work units; supervisors; adaptability; and employee influence, decision-making, and connection.
          To continue the conversation, managers should review their unit’s FEVS reports, discuss the strengths and challenges with their staff, and then work together to identify a few key questions to work on in 2023. Thank you to all who participated in the 2022 FEVS!”

          I think talking to WEPO about these different surveys and their results might make a good TSW post… are you interested, Jim?

      • Three thoughts: 1. out of curiosity, what precisely don’t you believe? the PPP results are more like a snapshot in time to point to further work, instead of a dive into what could be done to improve. More diagnostic than prognostic.

        2. interestingly, the data for the FS comports with what you say, that is that there is generally positive evaluation of work units at the local level and general distrust of leadership (leaving aside dismal pay scores and sub-median engagement scores).

        3. What further questions follow? A few suggestions:

        Why is the FS far and away the lowest scoring (seemingly consistently across time) land management agency subcomponent?

        Are there causes, in the form of structural features of the agency, policies, procedures, or mission mandates that would lead to the FS being consistently both at the bottom of the pack as well as significantly sub-median on almost every score?

        why can’t some things be changed? If human resources and the ABQ service center are structural impediments that both have deleterious effects on the agency’s function (meaning they serve as impediments to normal business even at the best of times) and impede it’s ability to change / adapt (meaning that change is impossible if you can’t get it through HR), then why retain?

        • Two factors are important, I think:

          * Chronic understaffing, at least at the ranger district level. My local RD is at 25% of its staff of ~20 years ago.

          * Overall negative press. Media coverage is overwhelmingly negative. (Or is that my misconception?)

          • Nobody likes the Forest Service and that translates to overwhelmingly negative media coverage.

            I have a really close friend that was the editorial writer for a regional newspaper. In fact, I just came back from a fishing trip with him.

            He and the newspaper publisher both liked and supported the Forest Service, but I asked him what people thought of the Forest Service.

            His reply was brief and right to the point ” Nobody likes the Forest Service”.

            That really is a issue for senior leadership to address, but I don’t think they are even aware of the problem.

        • I think the point of the R2 effort was that the survey doesn’t dive deep enough into what exactly needs to be improved. Suppose, for example, as we’ve heard that younger people like work at home, and suppose they don’t like field work. Yet field work is essential in some jobs.

          I think (having worked in two) that different agencies can be like apples and oranges, for different reasons. I guess it’s more of the “who determines the spatial scale” question- because as we know, the answer you get depends on the spatial scale you pick.

          Now, I think that comparing the BLM and the FS would be useful.
          Comparing all science agencies could be useful. Or regulatory agencies.
          But.. suppose some entity decided to group government agencies around the world and compare them based on a survey… and we found the US government ranked below the mean.. to what extent would that help inform government leaders?

          My point being is if the agencies do not downscale to a meaningful scale, and continue assessment through time in a meaningful way, comparing apples and oranges is not useful.

    • The FS was 420 out of 432 last year so we’ve actually improved!
      I’m not sure a local district survey would show much of a difference from the national results these days. Everyone I talk to is mostly in agreement that the FS is at a low point. The biggest issues? Hiring, low pay and high cost of living at a lot of duty stations, and totally ineffective leadership.

      I totally disagree with Sharon’s comment below that getting rid of the ABQ service center is impossible. This could be done tomorrow by FS leadership. Put HR back on the forests or even regions, and reverse one of the worst decisions ever made by the FS. Hiring is still the biggest problem and I can’t tell you how many good people we lose or never hire because of ASC.

      • I get hiring (they are trying). I kind of get low pay and high cost of living (in many but not all places).. but what do you mean by “totally ineffective” leadership.. could you be more specific please?

  2. It gets old when all you hear is how bad the USFS is at managing the nation’s forest, both from the right, left and the media. And when you lead out to do something, trying to manage the land using the best available science, it takes is one leftist wack job with an attorney to slow/stop the needed work. We are told to not take litigation personally, but one needs to find value in the work you do, and when you are constantly being bombarded by serial litigators, it’s not difficult to imagine the toll that takes on employees. The agency leaders seem tone deaf to the situation as does Congress. Even though they say we are in a wildfire crisis, they won’t deal legislatively with the root cause of the inaction, which is NEPA, which leads to frivolous litigation. Billions of dollars are available, but until they deal with the procedural issues, we will continue to spiral, and the wildfire crisis will only worsen.

    • A- what you said reflects some of my own experience supervising people who work in litigation and FOIA.. one person even retired from FOIA due to what we might call a “hostile work environment” from the requesters. In R-2 our RF used to have an annual meeting with the ENGO’s at which they would moralize at us.. we even met with profs at the local university who lectured (about wildfire) to our Regional Fuels Specialist.

      Having to read snarky untruths about your project, and not being able to be snarky in return.. I think all this would be excellent ground for a qualitative social scientist..maybe in conjunction with a mental health researcher?

  3. I worked for private industry, Forest Service, BLM and the National Park Service in my career. Most of it, however, was spent with the Forest Service.

    Ranking senior leadership the NPS was head and shoulders above both the Forest Service and BLM.
    They knew exactly what they wanted to do and set up planning and other processes to make sure they met objectives for the Park Service.

    BLM was somewhere in between the NPS and FS. They had a firm grasp of political reality and did a fairly good job of prioritizing agency policy.

    Forest Service by the time I started my professional career in the late 70’s and early 80’s was lost in the Wilderness. It wasn’t that the senior leadership was bad, it was just that there was no leadership.

    Given my family history I compared the Forest Service leadership to Gorbachev. A good person that meant well, but totally unable to deal with historical events. I could give more comparisons between the Soviet Union and the Forest Service during the 80’s, 90’s and the oughts, but it might be unfair to the Soviet Union.

    One thing that did catch my eye in my career was that in the National Park Service the higher you went up in the leadership the more impressed I was by the folks. I was much less impressed with the lower level NPS employees.

    In the Forest Service, it was the exact opposite the lower level Forest Service employees were pretty impressive, but after John McGuire I really never got the sense that any Chief had any idea on how to right the ship.

    Granted the death of southern Democrats starting in the 70’s greatly affected the Forest Service, but the leadership really needed to focus on the changing political winds and made plans for dealing with it. I am not sure they even tried.

    As the Forest Service retirements grew in the new century I was STUNNED by the number of FS employees that were great in their careers and represented the Forest Service well and upon retirement wanted NOTHING to do with the agency. There was some serious bitterness towards the agency by it employees.

    It is a shame. It was a great agency with the best forestry expertise in the world.

    It has been a great loss to the conservation movement to lose the Forest Service as a major player in public land policy.

  4. Well anonymous, you sound a lot like me; better at putting words together but we be cut from the same cloth, so to speak. You are pretty much spot on with your assessment of getting NEPA under some kind of control. Projects sit too long and the folks who do the implementing take their tools and go somewhere else. I’m talking about forest industries (logging, BD, KV, etc) brought all to a point by the absolute management mess in most forests west of the 100th Meridian (save the Black Hills).

    Also to Sharon’s point of no dismantling ASC HR, I was told by a most senior official that ASC will have enough money thrown at it to eventually work! That was my answer to THAT question. Sadly, it’s more than money ASC has cost us.

    Ineffective leadership? Lots of it but we can’t talk about it without hurting someone’s feelings! Just because Joe, or Sue are great folks doesn’t mean they will be effective leaders. We once had a Region 2 program called SEAL (Supervisory Excellence and Leadership) that really dove into (almost Simon Sinek-ish) the “why”. In all my travels, Region 2 did the best at leadership development, in my opinion!

    Miss Sharon, this is a great topic that seems to need a bit more fleshing out! Reckon we could?

    • I remember SEAL.. I think I might have done a video interview for them.. I’m sure it was a hoot! We certainly could work on fleshing it out.. starting with these new surveys. Anyone else interesting in diving in?

  5. The upper leadership of the FS are failures. Does anyone want to talk about why Tony Tooke was chief for less than a year ? Look at the backgrounds of so called “senior” leadership and you will quickly see why the FS has been captured by politics, and why its own employees continually rate it as a failed agency. I’m glad that a local survey shows otherwise, but it’s a national agency that deserves national accountability. Stop pretending that so called ranger districts are autonomous or somehow independent.

  6. Sharon,

    Are you going to start a separate thread on this subject or do you want us just to post to this one??

    Just prior to retirement I did write up a very brief note on what the Forest Service needs to do to regain it leadership role in the conservation movement.

    Big hint: It has NOTHING to do with resource issues or politics.

    • V. Well, yes, I’d like to start a separate thread, but this isn’t my topic to do the groundwork on as a 11 year out retiree.. please send me what you have and it will be a new post.

      Someone else with the energy on this topic can try to hunt down the OPM and WEPO results and we can discuss them..

      As to Tony, I think he was brought down by his personal predilections.. which were indeed gossiped about prior to choosing him..but that’s not exactly what people probably mean.. about lack of leadership.

      • Not to excuse Tony’s “sins of the flesh”, but at least he didn’t hide it; worked for good and bad. It’s the liars, thieves, scallawags and drunks that lower level employees see committing devious acts – or at least hear of such, and no accountability for their actions!

        This comment is NOT aimed at any current or former Chief, by the way….

          • Yeah, I may be to explicit; I also throw in the lack of credibility for not meeting assigned targets – ever, burning up communities and livelihoods with no impunity, false bravado, etc…

            A little drink, to soften the feathers, seems appropriate on occasion….🤠

  7. It would be interesting to go rogue and start a new thread, but it doesn’t make much difference to me. I could use one word to describe the “why” senior leadership is such a contributor to troop morale, and that would be “accountability”. Maybe, if this is topic gains some legs, I’ll opine on my rationale….

  8. I haven’t seen the results of one of these for years, but it looks just like I remember seeing long ago – the Forest Service is pathetic. I think the difference between the EPA (and anecdotally the Park Service) and the Forest Service is noteworthy. What I would note is the difference between the former’s relative focused missions and the Forest Service’s “multiple-use” flexibility. There is undoubtably a wider range of views within the Forest Service of its mission, and it shouldn’t be surprising that many of those are not happy with whatever direction the agency is heading at any point in time. It’s harder to explain why BLM has always looked better than the Forest Service. Maybe trying to figure out the differences that lead to that would be worthwhile. (Like not having a career “Chief?”)

    • I agree. First, I guess OPM has a survey, someone could compare the OPM with the Best Places.
      And/or survey a sample of the many people who have worked in both. I’ve spoken with quite a few. If we had some $ we could find some retired FS social scientist to look into it..

  9. There were some comments here about the Albuquerque Service Center and thought you might be interested in how that’s being noted in the southwest: https://www.paysonroundup.com/catastrophe_a_forest_in_flames/forest-service-staffing-now-a-bottleneck-for-forest-thinning/article_00cb43f2-09e8-5f82-8453-84fa24ea7f86.html

    Q: “You said 12 to 18 months? So if I apply – you don’t see my application for that long?”

    A: “While the Forest Service is ramped up to get these thinning projects done – someone forgot to tell the people in the office of personnel management that we’re going to have to take the yoke off. I’m not planning on having that addressed. We’re going to have to do it in a different way.”

    Interestingly, “However, turns out those contract teams often lure away the remaining experienced Forest Service workers, which can feed back into the problem.”


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