Bottom of the Barrel Blues

Original post, February 11, 2017

Just like the annual cherry blossoms signaling spring, we await the next installment of the OPM Employee Viewpoint survey. In 2016, just as in all the preceding years, the BBG dwelled in the depths of the cellar as it received its annual tiara imprinted with the shivery words: One of the Worst Places to Work in the Federal Government. Once again, bottom of the barrel. So, the perplexing questions of WHY?, WHAT-THE?, OH, NO need to be addressed in an attempt to try and solve the puzzle of why this Agency has failed so often and so badly. It really shouldn’t take a PhD in rocket science to figure it out.

For the past several years, the Agency, through selective groups, has conducted its own internal evaluation of the results of the OPM Employee Viewpoint survey. These are presented in a chart with color graphics that basically show which Agency units (elements) are above or below what is defined as – “the line” as the average of the positive responses received in several categories of the survey. However, the “line” is actually skewed because it is based not on the average responses per category for agencies government-wide but on the averages within the Agency itself. In every single case, the average results in each category for the Agency were lower than the average results for agencies government-wide. Another problem: the breakdown is only for those areas that had at least 10 responses to the survey. So, some places fall through the cracks.

AFGE Local 1812 was provided with these Agency charts for 2015 and 2016. The chart clearly shows the areas within the Agency that are doing well and those areas that are failing.

First the good news.

In 2015 the survey results for the Indonesian Service were abysmal. In 2016 the results were almost completely the opposite with the only area “below the line” being “employee engagement”. Why the dramatic shift? The Agency should make the effort to determine just what the catalyst was. Another area that showed a significant turnaround was the French-to-Africa Service while the English-to-Africa results showed a precipitous drop. Again, the Agency should make the effort to determine what brought about the positive and the negative changes in the very same Division.

Other areas within the Agency that ranked particularly better than others were the Latin America Division, Technical Support (with the exception of Radio Maintenance), Central Production Division, Eurasia Division, Multimedia Production Desk, Office of Security, and TSI (with the exception of the Office of the CIO).

Now for the failures of which there were more than a few.

The very worst of the worst include the VOA Persian Service, Russian Service, China Branch/Mandarin, Burmese Service, Central News and Production Unit, English Division, English Radio Branch/Regional Service, English Radio Branch/Africa Service, Office of the CIO, Office of the CFO, and Financial Operations. For these areas, management should focus on making serious changes and do it quickly.

The Persian Service, China Branch/Mandarin, English Division, English Radio Branch/Regional Service, Office of the CFO, Office of the CIO, and Financial Operations have been chronic problem areas. The obvious question should be why they have been allowed to languish?

The Russian Service, Burmese Service, Central News and Production Unit, and the English Radio Branch/Africa Service all registered significant drops in 2016 spiraling down from the 2015 results. With this critical backward direction, is there anyone in the management cadres who could take a look at these areas and determine not only the causes but also come up with solutions?

Those areas that were not at the very bottom of the list but were not much better include the Afghan Branch, Urdu Service, VOA News Center, Real Time News Desk, and the National Desk.

This is no time for cosmetic changes or appointing yet another task force to gather ideas to improve morale and leadership in the Agency. We’ve been down that road before. Good ideas were presented in the Workplace Solutions effort which built upon the failed Workplace Engagement effort a few years before. The Partnership for Public Service also has case studies available of other faltering federal agencies which made tremendous strides in improving morale in a relatively short time.

Enough already of endless studies and committees. Agency management needs to have the courage and resolve to do what is required.

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