Monday, February 11, 2013


The next US Trade Representative will face some tough challenges – like completing the TransPacific Partnership negotiations, launching a new trade deal of some sort with the European Union and making sure that countries like China play by the rules.

But the toughest challenge facing the next USTR will be USTR, itself.  More specifically, they are the cream-of-the-crop hard-working employees who toil day and night at the Office of the US Trade Representative – an agency that used to be praised as being the leanest and most nimble federal agency around.

But shockingly, USTR also happens to be the agency with the unhappiest employees, according to an little-noticed annual survey of government employees which was quietly issued and then shoved-away last December.

In 2012 – for the second year in a row no less – USTR came in lowest in employee satisfaction and commitment of any federal agency surveyed as part of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings.  IN OTHER WORDS, USTR IS THE WORST PLACE TO WORK IN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.  This is according to the people who work there.  Even the employees of the Internal Revenue Service – often portrayed as the very stereotype of dispirited, soulless bureaucrats – are way happier than the folks at USTR.

It makes me wonder what’s going to happen to what little morale is left at USTR if President Obama moves ahead with his grand scheme to subsume the small agency into a huge new federal Department of Business – essentially a reconstructed Commerce Department.  And, what kind of message would it send to USTR employees if the “architect” of the new plan – acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients – becomes their next boss?

But back to the survey.  Not only was USTR at the bottom for the second year in the row in 2012 – with a ranking of 32.7 out of 100 – but employee satisfaction last year was down 15 percent from the previous year.  USTR’s slide into the basement of employee satisfaction began in 2009, according to the survey and has dropped by 24.7 points since 2010.

USTR employees responding to the survey rated themselves unhappy with almost every aspect of their work, including pay and performance-based rewards (okay, who’s ever happy with those?), support for diversity (surprising), access to training and development (surprising) and work/life balance (not so surprising for a small workhorse agency).

Also not so surprising is that the one area where the tightly-knit USTR staff are more satisfied is with each other.  USTR employees gave their highest scores (although still not great) to teamwork and employee skills.

But most telling of all, USTR staff gave their lowest ratings to the agency’s leadership – or rather what USTR staffers saw as the lack of effective leadership.  USTR EMPLOYEE RATINGS FOR EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WERE THE LOWEST OF ANY AGENCY SURVEYED – with a score of 35.7 out of a possible 100.  Senior leaders got a score of only 18.6 – AGAIN THE LOWEST SCORE FOR ANY FEDERAL AGENCY.  In the category of whether agency leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce, USTR’s score was 12 out of 100.


Of course, the next USTR can always take comfort in the old adage that “when you’re on the bottom, there’s no place to go but up” – unless you stay on the bottom.

The Best Places to Work  rankings are compiled each year by the Partnership for Public Service, a New York-based organization that describes its mission as seeking “to revitalize our federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works.”  Most of the data used is collected first-hand by the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.  The survey was administered April 2 through June 30, 2012, to full-time and part-time permanent executive branch employees and completed by more than 687,000 federal workers – a response rate of 46.1 percent.

The 2012 rankings are available at

HAVE A GOOD READ and weep.

Mary Berger

No comments:

Post a Comment