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Feds feel less empowered to innovate, survey finds

Apr. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab Holds Viewing Of Mars Cu
NASA has been ranked the most innovative large agency for three consecutive years in an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service. Pictured: NASA employees celebrate as the first pictures appear on screen after a successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover on Aug. 5. (Brian van der Brug/Getty Images, pool)

Most federal employees look for ways to be innovative and do their jobs better, but an increasing number of feds don’t feel empowered to do that, according to a new analysis by the Partnership for Public Service.

While 91 percent of employees said they are always looking for ways to do their jobs better, only 57 percent said they feel encouraged to do so, according to the analysis. And only 36 percent of employees said creativity and innovation are rewarded at their agencies. That number is down from 38.8 percent in 2011.

In its analysis, the Partnership used the results of the Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Specifically, the Partnership analyzed how feds ranked their agencies in terms of being innovative and on other factors that drive innovation, including the level of respect feds have for their senior leaders, whether employees are rewarded for producing high-quality products and services, and whether employees feel empowered to improve work processes.

The Partnership defines innovation as “the process of improving, adapting or developing a product, system or service to deliver better results and create value for people.” This is critical for agencies, the Partnership said, since citizens have increased expectations to perform even while budgets are declining.

To improve innovation, the Partnership encouraged managers to:

■Involve employees in efforts to improve business processes and to solicit employee feedback.

■Give employees an avenue for sharing new ideas in team meetings, or brainstorming sessions.

■Launch employee competitions.

■Use performance data to evaluate what programs are working well or require additional innovation.

NASA has been ranked the most innovative large agency for three consecutive years. The agency received an innovation score of 76.5, 15 points above the governmentwide score. State Department ranked second with a score of 67.6 and the Environmental Protection Agency received a score of 66.1. Federal Trade Commission and Nuclear Regulatory Commission were among the top innovative midsize agencies, and the Surface Transportation Board received a score of 83.0 as the most innovative small agency.

The Department of Homeland Security ranked 18th among large agencies and saw its innovation score drop 2.6 percent to 52.7.

Compared with the private sector, federal employees feel less encouraged to come up with new ideas for getting work done. Fifty-seven percent of federal employees said they feel encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things, compared with 71 percent of private sector employees, according to OPM data.

At NASA, the agency has an innovation fund to stimulate aerospace creativity and innovation at its various centers.

EPA is one of the few agencies with a chief innovation officer, although this trend has been gaining steam at the state level and in the private sector. As chief innovation officer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, Peter Preuss and his team have launched several projects, including an internal competition that awards seed funding to agency scientists with innovative research proposals that advance the science for sustainability, Preuss said in a blog post.

“It is clear that EPA scientists at every level are energized by the opportunity to innovate,” Preuss said.

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