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Worst government agencies to work for

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Jason Raff // Shutterstock

Worst government agencies to work for

If you’re looking for a new job, you’re probably going to come across openings in the federal government at some point during your search. It employs around 2.1 million civilian workers, according to an October 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service. And while the opportunity to make a difference is one major reason why people initially pursue careers in the government, the employment benefits that come with federal jobs help them stick around. Workers have access to competitive salaries, paid vacation time, health insurance, and retirement plans, among other perks.

But despite the benefits, some government agencies can be more demanding of employers than others—a fact that’s becoming all the more apparent with the coronavirus pandemic. Staff members at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, have been hard at work getting a handle on the COVID-19 crisis, issuing new guidelines and tracking positive cases of the disease. Likewise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working on procuring body bags and getting an adequate supply of ventilators, all the while bracing for hurricane season. On a regular day, employees at government agencies may feel like they have too much to do and too few resources. An emergency like this can stretch staff at some of the worst government agencies to their limits.

The workplace environment of government agencies serves as food for thought for job seekers. To figure out what federal workers think of their employers, Stacker used data from the Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings to compile a list of 35 federal agencies that are the worst to work for, based mainly on a 2019 survey collected by the Office of Personnel Management. The survey was completed between May and July 2019 by 615,395 government-agency employees who are permanent full-time or part-time workers. Ten additional agencies conducted surveys that were completed by 268,400 additional employees in total. The 35 agencies in this list are ranked by their 2019 employee engagement score out of 100, a score that is weighted with the help of three questions from the survey: 1) Do you recommend your organization as a good place to work; 2) Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job 3) Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization? The employee engagement scores from 2018 and the workforce size of each agency are included in the list, as well.

While some of the agencies on this list have above-average employee engagement scores, others have plenty of room for improvement. Read on to see which government agencies you might want to cross off your list of places to apply.

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Anton_Ivanov // Shutterstock

#35. National Gallery of Art

- 2019 employee engagement score: 64.2 (4.1% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 66.1
- One-year score change: -1.9
- Agency workforce size: Small

Located in Washington D.C., the National Gallery of Art is a cultural institution that displays works from its collection of more than 150,000 pieces of Western art. The agency may be a prestigious place to work if you have a degree in art history or design. However, it also employs support staff, like salespeople, security guards, and accountants, who may not feel as engaged in their workplace.

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Jer123 // Shutterstock

#34. Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

- 2019 employee engagement score: 64.0 (3.7% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 57.8
- One-year score change: +6.2
- Agency workforce size: Small

More than 200 people work at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is responsible for negotiating trade agreements and resolving disputes with foreign governments, as well as collecting input on trade issues from various stakeholders. The agency has played a major role in liaising with China on the recent trade deal and import-export tariffs. It employs people with training in trade negotiations and foreign affairs, as well as support staff, like information technology and human resources professionals.

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U.S. Dept. of State // Flickr

#33. Millennium Challenge Corporation

- 2019 employee engagement score: 63.8 (3.4% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 69.1
- One-year score change: -5.3
- Agency workforce size: Small

Founded in 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corporation helps fight global poverty by offering grants to developing countries. It hires a variety of highly educated professionals, like economists and international attorneys. Despite having relatively low engagement scores, the agency has seen its employee satisfaction scores increase at higher-than-average rates in recent years.

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Timothy Moore // tmd.texas.gov

#32. Department of the Army

- 2019 employee engagement score: 63.7 (3.2% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 62.4
- One-year score change: +1.3
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of the Army does more than organize and train military forces—it also runs programs dedicated to protecting the environment, controlling floods, developing water resources, and improving waterway navigation. In 2019, it began overhauling its promotion process to base employee advancements on merit rather than time served, which could impact job satisfaction rates.

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Pixabay

#31. Railroad Retirement Board

- 2019 employee engagement score: 63.6 (3.1% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.1
- One-year score change: +0.5
- Agency workforce size: Small

The Railroad Retirement Board runs employment benefit programs, including retirement, unemployment insurance, and sick pay, for railroad workers. While the agency has overall decent employee engagement scores, it has room for improvement in the area of talent management. Its 2019 employee survey found that only 42% of respondents felt the agency rewards creativity and innovation, and 41% felt that salary increases were based on job performance.

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Brendan Smialowski // Getty Images

#30. Federal Communications Commission

- 2019 employee engagement score: 62.9 (1.9% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 64.4
- One-year score change: -1.5
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

Everything from radio and TV to satellite and cable communication is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. According to the agency’s 2019 employee survey, many employees did not feel that pay raises were based on job performance, and fewer than half of respondents felt strongly that promotions were based on merit.

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U.S. Dept. of State // Flickr

#29. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, Defense Agencies, and Department of Defense Field Activities

- 2019 employee engagement score: 62.8 (1.8% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.2
- One-year score change: -0.4
- Agency workforce size: Large

This agency manages the day-to-day business of the Department of Defense and is charged with developing policies, managing its resources, and evaluating its programs. The people who work at the Office of the Secretary of Defense include the “top civilian defense decision-makers,” including professionals knowledgeable about weapons acquisitions, fiscal policy, and research.

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Karin Hildebrand Lau // Shutterstock

#28. Department of the Treasury

- 2019 employee engagement score: 62.5 (1.3% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 61.3
- One-year score change: +1.2
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of the Treasury focuses on keeping the economy strong and safeguarding the financial system. Employees at this agency have expressed concerns about having sufficient resources for their jobs, as well as whether pay raises are based on merit.

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pattarawat // Shutterstock

#27. Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board

- 2019 employee engagement score: 62.5 (1.3% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 61.9
- One-year score change: +0.6
- Agency workforce size: Small

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board manages a retirement savings plan, similar to a 401(k), exclusively available to employees of the federal government. It employs financial experts, accountants, and tax attorneys, among other professionals. Only four of every 10 employees said senior leaders at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board generated “high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce.”

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Pixabay

#26. Department of the Interior

- 2019 employee engagement score: 62.2 (0.8% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 62.8
- One-year score change: -0.6
- Agency workforce size: Large

Around 70,000 people work at the Department of the Interior, running programs like the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Land Management. Not everyone who is employed at this agency spends their workdays in the great outdoors. It employs professionals in more than 300 occupations, including electrical engineers, auditors, grants management specialists, and mechanics.

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Ed Brown // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Department of Labor

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.8 (0.2% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.0
- One-year score change: -1.2
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency dedicates itself to promoting the welfare of workers, improving workplace conditions, and protecting employment-related rights and benefits. While the vast majority of employees at the Department of Labor feel that they do important work, more than a third of workers say they are lacking sufficient resources to get their jobs done.

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rangizzz // Shutterstock

#24. Overseas Private Investment Corporation

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.8 (0.2% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 73.6
- One-year score change: -11.8
- Agency workforce size: Small

The goal of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation was to help grow the economies of developing countries through U.S. private investment. It recently became part of a new agency, the United States International Development Finance Corporation, which employs people who are knowledgeable about financial management, portfolio services, environmental impact analysis, and socially responsible investing.

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Adam K. Thomas // Wikimedia Commons

#23. Department of the Navy

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.7 (0.0% higher than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.2
- One-year score change: -1.5
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of the Navy employs members of the military, as well as civilians, in high-demand fields such as nuclear operations, nursing, information systems technology, and healthcare. Its mission is to make sure the country has combat-ready naval forces who can win wars and maintain “the freedom of the seas.”

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Andrew Burton // Getty Images

#22. Department of Justice

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.4 (0.5% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 62.6
- One-year score change: -1.2
- Agency workforce size: Large

Criminal investigators, correctional officers, forensic scientists, and attorneys are among the professionals employed by the Department of Justice. The agency is responsible for law enforcement, public safety, and administering justice

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Pixabay

#21. Department of State

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.3 (0.6% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 60.7
- One-year score change: +0.6
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of State pushes America’s foreign policy forward through diplomacy and advocacy. More than half of employees feel the agency does not base salary increases on job performance.

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Leonard Zhukovsky // Shutterstock

#20. Selective Service System

- 2019 employee engagement score: 61.3 (0.6% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 44.2
- One-year score change: +17.1
- Agency workforce size: Small

Operating within the executive branch, the Selective Service System registers men between the ages of 18 and 25 who could serve the country in the event of an emergency. Many of its national and regional headquarters have just a few dozen, or fewer, full-time employees.

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Chaiyapak Mankannan // Shutterstock

#19. Commodity Futures Trading Commission

- 2019 employee engagement score: 60.9 (1.3% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 58.3
- One-year score change: +2.6
- Agency workforce size: Small

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulates futures trading to maintain the integrity of the derivatives markets. It employs attorneys, auditors, economists, management professionals, and futures-trading investigators.

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Sundry Photography // Shutterstock

#18. Consumer Product Safety Commission

- 2019 employee engagement score: 60.6 (1.8% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 66.1
- One-year score change: -5.5
- Agency workforce size: Small

The Consumer Product Safety Commission aims to reduce the risk of people getting hurt or killed by products. It conducts research on hazards, issues product recalls, and creates mandatory and voluntary standards for various industries. Workers are dissatisfied with how pay raises are decided (43%), their ability to get a better position at the commission (42%), and senior leaders’ ability to motivate the workforce (42%).

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NurPhoto // Shutterstock

#17. Environmental Protection Agency

- 2019 employee engagement score: 60.3 (2.3% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 57.5
- One-year score change: +2.8
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency works to maintain the cleanliness of the country’s air, land, and water to protect human health. Scientists and legal professionals are among the top occupations employed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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travelwild // Shutterstock

#16. Department of Housing and Urban Development

- 2019 employee engagement score: 59.9 (2.9% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 60.1
- One-year score change: -0.2
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

The Department of Housing and Urban Development focuses on addressing America’s housing needs through national policies and programs. Only a small percentage of the people who work at this agency are satisfied with their opportunities to get a more fulfilling job at the department.

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Jason Raff // Shutterstock

#15. Social Security Administration

- 2019 employee engagement score: 59.8 (3.1% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 61.9
- One-year score change: -2.1
- Agency workforce size: Large

Among the largest independent federal agencies, the Social Security Administration has a workforce of more than 60,000 employees. It offers nine different career paths such as legal, law enforcement, admin support, and finance.

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Asia Images // Shutterstock

#14. Department of the Air Force

- 2019 employee engagement score: 59.4 (3.7% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 60.4
- One-year score change: -1.0
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Air Force employs full-time active-duty members and civil service employees, as well as part-timers in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. It offers employees the ability to pursue more than 200 different career interests, including natural science, law enforcement, missiles, space, and logistics.

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Bethany Mollenkof // Shutterstock

#13. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

- 2019 employee engagement score: 59.2 (4.1% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.5
- One-year score change: -4.3
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency provides supervision to people who are on probation or parole. Many employees of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency don’t feel that promotions are based on merit and that necessary steps are taken to address workers who are performing poorly.

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EQRoy // Shutterstock

#12. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

- 2019 employee engagement score: 58.4 (5.3% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 51.7
- One-year score change: +6.7
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides regulations on consumer financial products and services and educates the public on making financial decisions. The agency’s current leadership structure is at the center of a Supreme Court case, the fate of which could impact employees’ experience on the job.

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Nikater // Wikimedia Commons

#11. International Boundary and Water Commission

- 2019 employee engagement score: 58.1 (5.8% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 63.2
- One-year score change: -5.1
- Agency workforce size: Small

This agency creates solutions to issues that come up around water in the border region between the U.S. and Mexico. It employs people from a variety of professional areas, including foreign affairs, human resources, public affairs, environmental management, and law.

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Smith Collection/Gade // Getty Images

#10. Department of Agriculture

- 2019 employee engagement score: 56.5 (8.4% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 59.0
- One-year score change: -2.5
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of Agriculture works on a myriad of issues, including food, agriculture, nutrition, and natural resources. Fewer than half of workers at this agency feel that they have a reasonable workload and sufficient resources to complete their duties.

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Jarek Tuszyński // Wikimedia Commons

#9. National Archives and Records Administration

- 2019 employee engagement score: 55.4 (10.2% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 56.7
- One-year score change: -1.3
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

Considered to be “the nation’s record keeper,” this agency manages documents and materials from the government that are of legal or historical importance. Some areas of improvement for the National Archives and Records Administration as a workplace include pay-raise criteria, promotion opportunities, and providing sufficient resources to staff.

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David Poe // Flickr

#8. U.S. Agency for Global Media

- 2019 employee engagement score: 53.7 (13.0% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 52.5
- One-year score change: +1.2
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency consists of five media organizations that promote freedom and democracy to more than 350 million people around the world. It primarily hires media professionals, including correspondents, broadcasters, and producers.

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Leonard Zhukovsky // Shutterstock

#7. Department of Homeland Security

- 2019 employee engagement score: 52.3 (15.2% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 53.1
- One-year score change: -0.8
- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of Homeland Security works to keep the country safe from threats. It employs more than 240,000 people, half of whom have worked at the agency for 11 or more years.

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Rob Crandall // Shutterstock

#6. Federal Election Commission

- 2019 employee engagement score: 49.7 (19.4% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 49.4
- One-year score change: +0.3
- Agency workforce size: Small

The Federal Election Commission administers and enforces campaign finance laws. Only 28% of workers at this agency feel that compensation increases are related to on-the-job performance.

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Mark Wilson // Getty Images

#5. National Labor Relations Board

- 2019 employee engagement score: 48.1 (22.0% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 55.3
- One-year score change: -7.2
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency is charged with protecting workers’ rights to organize and dealing with unfair labor practices. It employs more than 800 attorneys across the nation, along with field examiners who work in regional offices.

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ElenaR // Shutterstock

#4. Export-Import Bank of the United States

- 2019 employee engagement score: 45.9 (25.6% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 36.8
- One-year score change: +9.1
- Agency workforce size: Small

This agency provides financing tools to American businesses so they can compete in global sales. Its workforce consists of economists, business development specialists, attorney-advisers, engineers, loan specialists, and resource management professionals.

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U.S. Dept. of Education // Flickr

#3. Department of Education

- 2019 employee engagement score: 43.7 (29.2% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 47.3
- One-year score change: -3.6
- Agency workforce size: Midsize

The Department of Education has 4,400 employees who help advance its mission to promote academic achievement for students and ensure equal access to educational opportunities. It employs education program specialists, attorneys, program analysts, education research scientists, and information technology specialists, among other professionals.

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Vitalii Vodolazskyi // Shutterstock

#2. Federal Labor Relations Authority

- 2019 employee engagement score: 41.8 (32.3% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 41.6
- One-year score change: +0.2
- Agency workforce size: Small

This agency runs the labor-management relations program for more than 2 million federal employees. A 2019 survey of employees at the Federal Labor Relations Authority indicates a lack of confidence for senior leaders to “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity” and keep the staff highly motivated.

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MediaNews Group/Boulder Daily Camera // Shutterstock

#1. Corporation for National and Community Service

- 2019 employee engagement score: 39.3 (36.3% lower than government-wide score)
- 2018 employee engagement score: 66.3
- One-year score change: -27.0
- Agency workforce size: Small

This agency runs service and volunteer programs, like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and the Volunteer Generation Fund. It is transitioning to a new regional structure that may change employees’ experience working for this agency.

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