The best government agencies to work for

© Megan Jelinger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

By Joni Sweet, Stacker

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is a government-wide effort with health-related agencies, in particular, kicked into full gear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is part of the Department of Health & Human Services, has been tracking COVID-19 cases and giving the public guidance on how to cope with the outbreak, while the National Institutes of Health has been researching potential treatments and vaccines for the disease. The coronavirus crisis has also impacted seemingly unrelated agencies, like the National Park Service, which has needed to close some parks, and the Internal Revenue Service, which is distributing economic impact payments to many taxpayers.

The success of each agency’s efforts depends largely on the dedication of the roughly 2.1 million civilians who comprise the federal workforce, though. And research shows that when it comes to employee engagement, some agencies fare better than others.

To learn more about which government offices rank highly among their staffs, Stacker used data from Partnership for Public Service's Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings to compile a list of 20 federal agencies that are the best to work for, based mainly on a survey collected by the Office of Personnel Management. The survey was completed between May and July 2019 by 615,395 government agency employees that are permanent full-time or part-time workers. Ten additional agencies conducted their own surveys, which were completed by 268,400 additional employees in total.

The 20 agencies in this list are ranked by their 2019 employee engagement score out of 100, a score that is weighted with the help of three questions from the survey:

1. I recommend my organization as a good place to work.

2. Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your job?

3. Considering everything, how satisfied are you with your organization?

The employee engagement scores from 2018 and the workforce size of each agency is included in the list as well. The list also includes information on the size of the agency’s workforce. Large agencies have at least 15,000 employees, midsize have 1,000–14,999 employees, and small agencies have 100–999 employees.

Whether you’re considering a career in public service, or you’re just curious about the federal government as a workplace, read on to learn about the best government agencies to work for.


1. Small Business Administration

© Canva

- 2019 employee engagement score: 64.5 (4.5% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 62.0

- One-year score change +2.5

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

Started in 1953, the Small Business Administration is a federal agency that offers “counseling, capital, and contracting expertise” to small business owners. It employs people in a range of occupations, including loan serving assistants and specialists, program managers, economists, marketers, and auditors. More than 91% of employees at this agency feel the work they do is important, according to a 2019 survey.


#2. Department of Veterans Affairs

© U.S. Air Force

- 2019 employee engagement score: 65.3 (5.8% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 64.2

- One-year score change +1.1

- Agency workforce size: Large

This agency serves the nation’s veterans by providing a health-care network, offering benefits that help people transition back to civilian life, providing burial services, and maintaining cemeteries, among other efforts. The majority of the staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs say that their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment and that their teams are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to meet goals, according to a 2019 survey.


#3. U.S. Agency for International Development

© Gabriel Aponte // Getty Images

- 2019 employee engagement score: 65.4 (6.0% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 67.2

- One-year score change -1.8

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

Better known as USAID, this agency aims to strengthen democracy, save lives, and reduce poverty through humanitarian efforts and international development initiatives. It looks for workers with “a wide variety of technical, managerial, and operational skills.” Around 9 in 10 USAID workers feel that the work they do is important, according to a recent survey.


#4. Department of Transportation

© Oregon Department of Transportation // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 65.7 (6.5% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 67.7

- One-year score change -2.0

- Agency workforce size: Large

The Department of Transportation makes sure the country’s transportation system is safe, efficient, and modern. Employees at this agency have expressed rising rates of job satisfaction in recent years. Around three-quarters of respondents to a recent survey said they would recommend the Department of Transportation as “a good place to work.”


#5. Surface Transportation Board

© Canva

- 2019 employee engagement score: 65.8 (6.6% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 64.0

- One-year score change +1.8

- Agency workforce size: Small

Primarily focused on freight rail, this independent federal agency determines the economic regulation of surface transportation. Most employees at the Surface Transportation Board say they like the kind of work they perform, and they know exactly what’s expected of them, according to a 2019 survey.


#6. Federal Housing Finance Agency

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- 2019 employee engagement score: 66.7 (8.1% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 65.6

- One-year score change +1.1

- Agency workforce size: Small

Created 12 years ago, the Federal Housing Finance Agency supervises, regulates, and provides oversight of the housing mission of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac (the Enterprises), and the Federal Home Loan Bank System. Its staff primarily consists of finance professionals, information technology specialists, lawyers, and examiners. Employees report that their supervisors show support for work-life balance and that they have an open dialogue about their performance, according to a recent survey.


#7. Office of Personnel Management

© U.S. Department of Agriculture // Wikimedia Commons

- 2019 employee engagement score: 67.1 (8.8% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 65.2

- One-year score change +1.9

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency serves as the human resources department and personnel policy manager for the federal workforce. It is responsible for providing employee management services, administering retirement benefits and insurance programs, and overseeing civil service hiring. Accountants, analysts, IT specialists, customer support providers, auditors, and human resources specialists are among the job titles for which this agency hires.


#8. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

© AFGE // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 67.1 (8.8% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 65.4

- One-year score change +1.7

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws that protect job applicants and workers from discrimination. A range of investigators, attorneys, information specialists, mediators, and statisticians keep this agency running. With such a strong mission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may help employees feel a deep sense of purpose with their work.


#9. National Endowment for the Humanities

© Jill Brady/Portland Portland Press Herald // Getty Images

- 2019 employee engagement score: 67.3 (9.1% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 74.9

- One-year score change -7.6

- Agency workforce size: Small

The National Endowment for the Humanities provides funding to cultural institutions that facilitate research, offer learning opportunities, preserve cultural resources, and strengthen the humanities. More than 90% of employees feel that the agency successfully accomplishes its mission, according to a recent survey.


#10. Department of Energy

© U.S. Department of Energy // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 68.2 (10.5% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 68.5

- One-year score change -0.3

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency is charged with “advancing the energy, environmental, and nuclear security” of the nation, as well as encouraging innovations in science and technology and providing environmental cleanup related to nuclear weapons. It needs a variety of scientific and technical professionals to conduct its work. The agency has seen rising employee engagement scores since 2014.


#11. Department of Commerce

© U.S. Department of Commerce // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 69.6 (12.8% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 70.3

- One-year score change -0.7

- Agency workforce size: Large

This agency works to promote job creation, encourage economic growth, and boost the standard of living across the country. It runs many offices and bureaus, including the International Trade Administration, Census Bureau, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and the Office of Inspector General. The 2019 employee survey shows that 81% of staff at this agency have trusting, respectful, and supportive relationships with their supervisors.


#12. Intelligence Community

© Chip Somodevilla // Getty Images

- 2019 employee engagement score: 69.9 (13.3% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 66.3

- One-year score change +3.6

- Agency workforce size: Large

This agency gathers and analyzes foreign intelligence and counterintelligence data for the president, legislators, the military, and law enforcement. The Intelligence Community is staffed by business and accounting professionals, mathematical scientists, infrastructure and logistics experts, security providers, and intelligence analysts, among other workers.


#13. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

© Nuclear Regulatory Commission // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 70.0 (13.5% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 72.8

- One-year score change -2.8

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for regulating commercial nuclear power plants and the use of radioactive materials for other purposes, like medicine. It primarily recruits engineers, scientists, and security experts. Employees feel that their work is connected to the goals of the agency and that they have protection from job-related health and safety hazards, according to a 2019 survey.


#14. National Credit Union Administration

© Canva

- 2019 employee engagement score: 70.0 (13.5% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 67.2

- One-year score change +2.8

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

This agency regulates federal credit unions and provides insurance for deposits at credit unions. Its workforce mainly consists of legal professionals, credit union examiners, and information technology specialists. Most employees at the National Credit Union Administration not only enjoy their work, but they also feel that it’s important, according to a 2019 survey.


#15. Merit Systems Protection Board

© Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post // Getty Images

- 2019 employee engagement score: 70.7 (14.6% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 64.2

- One-year score change +6.5

- Agency workforce size: Small

This quasi-judicial agency studies merit systems, reviews the actions of the Office of Personnel Management, and protects the rights of employees under federal merit systems. Staff at the Merit Systems Protection Board feel that the team cooperates to meet goals and shares knowledge among its members, according to a 2019 survey.


#16. Department of Health and Human Services

© Mark Wilson // Getty Images

- 2019 employee engagement score: 71.4 (15.7% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 70.9

- One-year score change +0.5

- Agency workforce size: Large

This agency works to promote advancements in public health, medicine, and social services to ensure the health and wellbeing of Americans. Employees can work at offices around the world, including in Denmark, Guam, Egypt, and Indonesia. Workers at the Department of Health and Human Services overwhelmingly report that they like their work and cooperate well with their colleagues, according to a 2019 survey.


#17. Federal Maritime Commission

© U.S. Federal Maritime Commission // Wikimedia Commons

- 2019 employee engagement score: 72.3 (17.2% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 74.4

- One-year score change -2.1

- Agency workforce size: Small

The U.S. international ocean transportation system is regulated by the Federal Maritime Commission for the benefit of exporters, importers, and American customers. Most employees at the agency feel that their performance appraisals are fair and that the commission is successful at working toward its mission, according to a 2019 survey.


#18. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

© U.S. Air Force

- 2019 employee engagement score: 73.8 (19.6% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 87.2

- One-year score change -13.4

- Agency workforce size: Small

This agency aims to promote labor-management peace through mediation and conflict resolution for government agencies, communities, and industry. People who have experience or interest in mediation can seek employment at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. It’s no surprise that a workforce of people who know how to resolve conflict report higher-than-average levels of teamwork scores.


#19. Smithsonian Institution

© Pedro Szekely // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 74.3 (20.4% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 76.7

- One-year score change -2.4

- Agency workforce size: Midsize

With 19 museums and a zoo, the Smithsonian Institution runs the largest “museum, education, and research complex” in the world. It hires a range of professionals, including animal keepers, accountants, conservators, curators, fundraisers, librarians, educators, and researchers. The vast majority of employees say that the Smithsonian Institution is “a good place to work,” according to a 2019 survey.


#21. National Transportation Safety Board

© National Transportation Safety Board // Flickr

- 2019 employee engagement score: 75.4 (22.2% higher than government-wide score)

- 2018 employee engagement score: 77.8

- One-year score change -2.4

- Agency workforce size: Small

Every civil aviation accident on American soil, as well as major accidents in other types of transportation, are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. Its 400 employees have backgrounds in transportation and administrative support. Its scores in effective leadership, support for diversity, and pay are higher than other similarly sized agencies.

See more at: Stacker

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