Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Federal jobs pay well,
but rewards few, workers say

The employees like their jobs
but say effort is not regarded

By Jonathan D. Salant
Associated Press

WASHINGTON >> Most federal workers like their jobs and say pay and benefits are OK, but many also complain that management fails to reward good work or penalize poor employees.

And while most workers are happy, 35 percent of those responding to a federal questionnaire are thinking about leaving their jobs.

More than 100,000 federal workers answered questionnaires from the Office of Personnel Management for the survey released yesterday, the largest such sampling ever taken.

Kay Coles James, the federal office's director, said the survey is among tools being used to find ways to attract and retain quality workers.


"Our goal is for the federal government to be a world-class employer," James said. "To get there, we have to listen to our employees."

More than 200,000 surveys were sent out to workers in all areas of the government. A little more than half were returned, with 56 percent saying they were very pleased with their pay and 63 percent saying they were happy with benefits.

But fewer than half -- 41 percent -- said outstanding employees receive timely recognition, and only 27 percent said disciplinary steps are taken against workers who can't or won't do their jobs. As to whether agency leaders motivate workers, just 36 percent said their agencies' leaders are motivators.

The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Paul Light, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of public service at New York University, said pay, benefits and job security attract employees to the government, especially during an economic downturn.

Private employees' complaints, on the other hand, center around salaries and benefits, experts say. A 1998-99 Office of Personnel Management survey of private companies found just 44 percent of employees were satisfied with their pay.

"In any labor market, you're going to have a certain number of people who just don't cut it," Light said. "The problem is what you do with them. In the private sector, you either fire them or retrain them. In the federal government, you keep them for 20 years."

Diane Witiak, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, said the Bush administration's interest in shifting many federal jobs to the private sector contributed to so many people saying they are considering leaving their jobs.

"Employees are leaving the federal government because it is perceived to be an employer that is determined to privatize as many services as possible, no matter the critical nature of the work or the ultimate higher costs to taxpayers," she said.

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