The Partnership for Public Service on November 16, 2011 released its annual list of the Best Places to Work in the Federal Government, an important yardstick that measures federal sector employee satisfaction and engagement. The SEC's ranking dropped once again, this time to 27th place out of 33 federal agencies. As recently as 2007, the SEC was ranked as the third best place to work in the federal government.
This low ranking does not reflect the exceedingly high level of skill, commitment and accomplishment of the SEC's workforce. It does, however, mark a continuation of the dramatic negative downward trend in SEC employee perceptions about the agency under Chairman Schapiro's leadership in just the past couple of years.
It is time for the SEC’s senior leadership, from the Chairman on down, to make a commitment to the men and women on the frontline who are doing the daily work of the Commission. This will require that the SEC work in partnership with the Union to develop a comprehensive response to OPM's annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey ("EVS") with the express objective of restoring the SEC to the top of the Best Places to Work list.
The Best Places to Work rankings are based on data from the EVS. The EVS is more than a one or two question employee “satisfaction survey.” It probes deeply into areas such as the extent to which employees rank agency leaders in high regard, both overall and at specific levels of leadership; the extent to which employees believe their organizational culture promotes improvement in processes, products, services and organizational outcomes; the extent to which the agency manages its talent; and the extent to which the conditions likely to lead to strong employee engagement are present. The SEC is scoring at or near the bottom of the federal government in each of these areas.
These results are unacceptable.
“When agencies are poorly managed and workers aren’t committed, the public suffers,” Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service recently remarked on the organization’s website. “The rankings hold agency leaders accountable for the health of their organizations and provide a roadmap for leaders to make workplace improvements and better serve the American people.”
When Chairman Schapiro joined the Commission, the SEC was ranked 11th on the Best Places to Work list. Today, the agency ranks near the bottom of the list. Undoubtedly, the Chairman does not want this decline to become a part of her legacy at the agency.
When considering the causes of low employee morale at the SEC, it is fair to point to post-Madoff criticism and changes at the agency in connection with the newly imposed Dodd-Frank responsibilities. Doing so, however, would tell only a part of the story. There is no doubt that the Chairman and her leadership team took the helm during a difficult period. But, as Harry Truman famously accepted responsibility for his administration with a sign on his desk stating that “the buck stops here,” we look to the Chairman, as the head of our agency, to accept responsibility for the human capital problems that these results reflect, and to dedicate her remaining time at the SEC to improving upon them.
Indeed, the 2011 EVS results and the Best Places to Work ranking demonstrate that whatever progress the SEC has made in recent years (and there have been successes under this leadership team) the SEC’s human capital policies under Chairman Shapiro have continued to slide in a dramatic fashion. Employee dissatisfaction is perilously close to the point where we have to consider whether the way the SEC is managing its workforce may negatively impact the SEC’s mission readiness. Clearly, The SEC owes the investors that it is charged with protecting an engaged, well-managed workforce.
In recent months we have reported here on the SEC’s senior leadership’s decision to adopt a more adversarial and even confrontational approach in discussions with SEC employee representatives. This has ranged from the unilateral implementation of a new, vague and subjective performance management system to the confrontational CBA negotiations in which the SEC is seeking cuts in various work-life programs such as the SEC’s popular telework program. The SEC's aggressive new approach has come at a time when across the government other federal agencies are embracing the more collaborative, partnership approach reflected in President Obama's 2009 Executive Order on labor-management relations.
The Best Places to Work rankings demonstrate that the SEC's human capital policies are not creating the kind of environment that lends itself to recruiting and retaining the highly talented professional staff the SEC needs to continue to meet its mission. The Union remains ready to assist the SEC in making necessary improvements to the agency's culture.