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News Release

The Troubled State of the Federal Public Service

In the wake of September 11, federal employees report decreased satisfaction with their jobs, lower morale among their co-workers, continued problems obtaining the necessary resources, and declining trust in their organizations, according to a new report issued today by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service.

“Federal employees are losing confidence in their own ability to make a difference,” cautions Paul Light, director of the Center for Public Service and author of the survey report. “In part, this can be attributed to the ‘September 11 effect’ on motivation and morale. Frustration is up because federal employees have become more aware of the bureaucratic barriers to performance in this post-September 11 world. Morale is down because federal employees want to do more to help the nation.”

The report is based on a series of surveys of federal government workers conducted in 2001 and 2002. Federal employees were contacted at home and given a rare chance to talk candidly and at length about their work.

However, not all federal employees expressed uniform levels of dissatisfaction. After September 11, Defense Department employees reported improved peer performance, increased access to resources, and a greater sense of purpose than their non-Defense Department colleagues.

“Clearly agencies throughout the federal government have important roles to play in securing our nation’s safety,” said Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), Ranking Member of the Committee on Governmental Affairs. “Public servants performing their daily duties are a key line of defense in the war on terror, and we must do everything in our power to attract a highly qualified workforce and retain the best talent possible in the federal government at this critical time and for years to come.”

FEDERAL EMPLOYEES: A PORTRAIT BEFORE AND AFTER SEPTEMBER 11

 

Government-Wide

Defense

Non-Defense

 

Pre 9/11

Post 9/11

Pre

9/11

Post

9/11

Pre 9/11

Post

9/11

Strongly agree that I’m given the chance to do the things I do best

44%

43%

45%

59%

44%

38%

Strongly or somewhat agree that my job is a dead-end with no future

28%

31%

36%

30%

25%

32%

Say that there are too many layers of supervisors where I work

39%

46%

34%

44%

41%

46%

Light attributes the schism between Defense and non-Defense federal employees to the quality of work available. “There are really two workforces within the federal government. One comprises exceptional organizations and agencies, like the Department of Defense, where the work is both challenging and rewarding. The other workforce experiences its work as more frustrating and exasperating, without apparent reward.”

THE TWO WORKFORCES AND THE "SEPTEMBER 11 EFFECT"

 

Government-Wide

Defense

Non-Defense

Since September 11th, the people that I work with have more of a sense of purpose

42%

63%

35%

My job is more rewarding since September 11th

19%

30%

15%

My job is more challenging since September 11

31%

45%

26%

My job is more stressful since September 11th

37%

46%

34%

“Defense employees not only acknowledged a greater sense of purpose post-September 11, but more readily characterized their jobs as more difficult, stressful, rewarding, and challenging,” stated Light. “While Defense employees appear to know the mission of their organization very well, that mission has become much more difficult than it used to be.”

“If the federal public service is to meet public expectations at this crucial moment in history, it must stay focused on its mission and be given the tools to succeed,” Light cautioned. “The federal government, and its employees, are capable of great accomplishments. We must equip them with the materials and the morale necessary to achieve.”

ABOUT THE REPORT

This report is based on pre- and post-September 11 surveys of the same random sample of federal employees, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA) under the direction of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Public Service. The first telephone survey of 1,051 randomly selected employees was conducted between February and June of 2001. The second survey of 673 of the same federal employees was conducted between March and May of 2002.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For interview requests with Paul C. Light, author of the report and Director of the Center for Public Service, contact Gina Russo at 202-797-6405 or grusso@brookings.edu. For a full copy of the report, visit the Center for Public Service’s web page at the Brookings Institution’s at www.brookings.edu/publicservice.

About Brookings

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public.

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