A consistent theme at the top of the ranking every year is mission: making employees feel particularly strong that their work matters and makes a difference in people’s lives.
All federal agencies have a mission—that’s why they exist—but not all are the model employers that President Biden wants his administration to be. Compared to the private sector, the government hiring process is slower and more difficult for a job applicant to navigate. Salaries are not as competitive in jobs like healthcare and cybersecurity. The internship program has shrank.
Federal agencies face challenges beyond their control as budgets are set through a complex process that involves annual, often politically charged, negotiations between Congress and the White House. This annual process often ends with threats — which sometimes come true — of agency closures and unpaid leave. Sometimes the government hits the federal debt ceiling and threatens not just business shutdowns but wider economic damage if that limit is not raised; One of these threats is just a few months ahead of us.
This project is published in partnership with the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group, who together produce the federal government’s annual Best Places to Work rankings.
Irrespective of this, agencies are working to become more attractive as employers. The application process is now a little easier. Administrators fight for better pay for in-demand jobs. Incentive payments for hiring and retaining employees will be rolled out along with student loan repayments to attract more talent. Training and other career development programs will receive renewed attention.
Most importantly, the government continues to provide the types of insurance and pension benefits that have been undermined by many other employers.
By definition, only some federal agencies can be the best places to work. But in their own way, they can all be good places to work.
The annual rankings of federal agencies are broken down into three categories by size, and a category of offices within each agency is referred to as a “subcomponent”: Large agencies have 15,000 or more employees; Medium-sized agencies have between 1,000 and 14,999 employees; and Small agencies have at least 100 employees but fewer than 1,000.
– Eric Yoder
Employees: 18,000 full and part-time; 30,000 contractors
Agency Manager: Bill Nelson
This is the 11th year that NASA has ranked #1 in this category. The past year was particularly successful: as part of the DART mission, we hit an asteroid directly in space; collecting star images from the James Webb Space Telescope; and the successful launch of Artemis I, beginning efforts to create a lunar community. Even as private companies join the ranks of space travel, NASA remains a major international player. “We operate as a crew,” says Administrator Bill Nelson, who himself flew as a payload specialist in 1986, of his immediate team, Col. Pam Melroy and Bob Cabana, and the rest of the NASA staff. “We have to rely on each other. I’m the one responsible, but I trust them.”
Employees: 3,323 full-time; 87 part-time
Agency head: Gene Dodaro
With a 97 percent retention rate (excluding the rare retirement) and a frequent top-five ranking in the annual survey, GAO seems to be taking managerial advice gives. GAO staff create a healthy diet of written reports, videos, and podcasts about how money is spent in the federal government. A new acting chief scientist, Karen Howard, helps explain topics related to science and technology. One of the most popular analyses, however, is the biennial High-Risk List, published in April, with worrying spending trends and helpful solutions to fix the problems.
Agency Manager: Phillip L. Swagel
A frequent Top 10 member, the CBO was busy providing preliminary analysis and technical assistance during the drafting phase of legislation, along with regular duties such as preparing the annual budget and economic outlook. Many of the analysts focus on health policy, while others cover energy and climate, labour, macroeconomics, microeconomics, national security and taxation. Director Phillip L. Swagel is asking for more staff over the next fiscal year to not only help with the workload but also to create the analytical tools needed to meet the information needs.
When the American Rescue Plan Act was passed in March 2021, John Hanley’s team reviewed the incoming special financial assistance requests while General Counsel Karen Morris and her team handled the legal aspects of the bill’s loan payments. The PBGC was still working remotely in those days. “We felt very motivated because this program benefits a lot of Americans,” Morris said.