“Social Security among survey’s worst federal workplaces”

Repost from Washington Post, May 20, 2024

A survey of more than 1 million federal employees reflects
the low morale of many workers.

Overall, the federal government scored 65.7 out of 100, a 2.3-point
increase over 2022. Unfortunately, for their employees and customers, some
workplaces were well below that. The Social Security Administration (SSA)
was at 52.1.

Building on lessons he learned as Baltimore’s mayor and Maryland’s
governor, SSA Commissioner Martin O’Malley is frank about the problems he
faced when he joined the agency in December.

“You know, the president didn’t ask me to come here … because the
agency was doing well,” O’Malley said by phone. “I’m here because he saw
what had happened when Congress reduced our staffing to a 25-year low,
even as the number of customers we serve has climbed and will continue to
climb to an all-time high.”

One of the first things he did after taking office was to meet with SSA
staffers around the country in “mayoral-style town halls,” O’Malley said. “I

The annual Best Places report is produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, using data from the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Agencies are ranked by engagement scores that approximate employee morale. The Partnership says
the scores reflect “the commitment of the workforce, its job and organizational satisfaction, and the willingness of employees to put forth discretionary effort to achieve results.”


Among the 1,600 employee responses was a complaint about an
agency form that had clients separately click responses to 41 questions about
their money. O’Malley remembered one Boston staffer saying, “’My firstborn
for a ‘no to all’ button.’ And so, within two weeks, we got that done.” This is an example of a small change making life easier for employees and customers. Staffers are “thrilled with actually being able to serve the public,” O’Malley said. “They are win-wins. You improve the employee experience, you’re improving customer service.”

American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) officials agree
with that. Union leaders, strongly critical of agency leadership in the past,
acknowledge positive changes under O’Malley, while calling for continued
improvements.

“SSA employees have been and remain chronically overworked and
overwhelmed due to years of underfunding and understaffing, while their pay
and benefits are uncompetitive compared to other agencies and employers,”
said a statement from the AFGE SSA General Committee. But it praised O’Malley for listening to workers, streamlining work processes, improving training “and making a real effort to improve their working conditions.”