Washington, DC, Nov. 27, 2018 — For the first time, 2018’s official survey of federal employees no longer asks them to rate their agency heads or top political leaders. After months of trying to find out who gave the order for this change and why, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today went to court to obtain the records explaining the source and the motives for this move.
Every year since 2002, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has conducted a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the results of which gauge employee morale, engagement, and perceptions about their departments. The survey asks questions about “senior leadership” such as –
- “How satisfied are you with the policies and practices of senior leaders”
- Do you “have a high level of respect for your senior leaders”
- Do your “senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity”
The definition for “senior leaders” in prior surveys was:
“The heads of departments/agencies and their immediate leadership team responsible for directing the policies and priorities of the department/agency. May hold either a political or career appointment….”
In an “improved” survey rolled out this year, OPM changed that definition to:
“The nearest senior executive (SES, Director, or higher-level GS [i.e., civil servant] in your organizational structure…” (Emphasis added).
That change means that the views of almost the entire federal workforce on their political leadership is now outside the survey scope.
“We are trying to verify reports that the Trump White House had the survey altered to deny a platform to federal employees for collectively expressing what they think about the administration’s performance,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that his organization’s unanswered Freedom of Information Act request sought pertinent internal emails from top OPM officials, including its White House Liaison. “Changing the definition of leadership enables Team Trump to brag about the tremendous job they are doing without fear of contradiction from those who know best.”
In an April 4 memo to department heads, then-OPM Director Jeff Pon (who has since abruptly resigned) wrote that the 2018 “Improvements… include: (1) clarifications to definitions (e.g., leadership)…based on recommendations from agency stakeholders” but does not specify who recommended what or why.
“Ironically, the slogan for this survey is ‘Empowering Employees. Inspiring Change’ – the exact opposite of what is now taking place,” concluded Ruch.