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The U.S. intelligence community won an award Jan. 10 for showing the biggest improvement in employee engagement among “large agencies” in 2019, despite a tumultuous year in the IC’s relationship with the White House.

The award from the Partnership for Public Service was given based on the IC’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey score, which evaluated how agency employees feel about their work environment. A large agency was characterized as one with more than 15,000 employees.

The IC, which includes 17 different organizations, improved its spot from fifth overall last year to third, helped by a 3.6 point bump in its FEVS score and decreases in the scores of the Departments of Commerce and Transportation.

“I am extremely proud of, and impressed by, the intelligence professionals I get to lead. This award speaks to their dedication, determination and commitment to serving their country,” Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire said in a statement. “The intelligence community works to stay out of the news. Today we are happy to make an exception to highlight our unmatched mission and world-class workforce."

The ODNI finished third behind NASA, which won for the eighth year in a row, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The IC finished second in 12 of 14 judged categories, four more than last year, according to the statement.

Accepting the plaque for the intelligence community was Andrew Hallman, the IC’s principal executive. Hallman joined the ODNI’s office in October after decades in the CIA. Hallman said there are three main attributes of the ODNI that lead its employees to be satisfied: its people, mission and leaders.

“We’ve got a world-class workforce with unmatched expertise and dedication,” Hallman said. “Our leaders serve that workforce by creating a positive, inclusive and flexible workplace — a place where a diverse workforce can apply its skills to our mission. But our mission is really what makes us stand out.”

It’s been a contentious year for the ODNI’s office given the controversy surrounding a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to President Donald Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. After the complaint was reported to exist, there was concern that the White House or Department of Justice was trying to block Maguire from testifying to Congress about the complaint.

Though Hallman wasn’t referring specifically to any events of the past year specifically, he did joke that “we operate in the harshest of environments, including here in Washington, D.C.”

He also joked that it was tough for the IC to compete with NASA when “the intelligence community covers the world, but NASA spans the universe.”

Here are the top 5 finishers in the large, midsize and small categories (scores in parentheses):

Large agencies (15,000 employees+)

  1. NASA (81.5)
  2. Department of Health and Human Services (71.4)
  3. Intelligence community (69.9)
  4. Department of Commerce (69.6)
  5. Department of Transportation (65.7)

Medium agencies (1,000-14,999 employees)

  1. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (82.8)
  2. Federal Trade Commission (82.4)
  3. Government Accountability Office (81.8)
  4. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (78.1)
  5. Securities and Exchange Commission (77.4)

Small agencies (100-999 employees)

  1. U.S. International Trade Commission (85.8)
  2. Farm Credit Administration (81.1)
  3. Peace Corps (80.7)
  4. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (79.6)
  5. National Endowment for the Arts (78.8)
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