For the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey has been an annual albatross of abysmal employee engagement ratings since 2011. But Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson emerged triumphant on Sept. 20, as his department jumped to 56 points in its employee engagement scores.
"I'm pleased to report that this year, employee engagement at DHS—after six-straight years of decline—went up three whole percentage points across the entire department," Johnson said in a Sept. 19 conference call.
"This is not an anomaly. It's regarded by [the Office of Personnel Management] as statically significant and compares favorably to the one-percent increase across the U.S. government."
Though DHS remains the lowest ranked large agency for employee engagement, Johnson said it also racked up the largest gain of any cabinet-level agency its size in 2016.
Overall, OPM officials said the federal government jumped one percent from last year to 65 points in employee engagement and a point in Global Satisfaction to 61 percent for year.
OPM’s Inclusion Quotient, or IQ, Index—which measures inclusiveness employees feel at their agencies—also climbed a point to 57 percent.
A year ago, the DHS finished the survey with a score of 53, prompting Johnson to issue statements promising better results for employees in 2016.
"I’m disappointed. We know improving employee satisfaction takes time, and we will not give up. We have an aggressive plan to do this," Johnson said in a Dec. 8, 2015 statement following the release of The Partnership for Public Service’s "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" survey, where DHS ranked last among large agencies.
It appears that Johnson has delivered on improvement. The secretary noted agency participation in the survey climbed three points in the survey from 2015, and that components like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship and Immigration Services all seeing higher response rates.
The Secret Service saw double-digit participation increases, from 41.8 percent to 59 percent, and ticked up a point in employee engagement following years of decline.
"This was the result of some very hard work," Johnson said. "Hopefully this year’s improved results are the beginning of a new, upward trend, and I hope the next Secretary of Homeland Security continues to make employee satisfaction a top priority."
The secretary credited the scores a number of customized component programs designed increase agency leadership and communication, an agency-wide engagement steering committee, as well as increased transparency in the department’s hiring and promotion practices.
Acting OPM director Beth Cobert said the DHS’s improvement was emblematic of how FEVS was supposed to be used: as a tool to inform and craft engagement policy unique to each agency.
"It was lead with a strong degree of personal commitment on the part of agency leadership throughout the organization," she said.
Though the federal government as a whole fell two points short of its engagement goal, Cobert noted that the 2016 results mark a second year of increases, matching 2015’s one-point improvement.
Another factor for the rise, she said, was the fiscal clarity that came as result of last year’s budget deal, which included a 1.6 percent raise for employees.
"We actually had budgets that people could plan on," she said, "that made it easier for people to think about, ‘How can I accomplish my mission.’"
The 2016 FEVS survey results can be found on