FAA Survey Reveals Wide Dissatisfaction

By Jessica Marquez

Jun. 13, 2008

For an example of the bitterness that exists between FAA management and air traffic controllers, look no further than the agency’s 2007 employee satisfaction survey.

    The survey was sent to 10,000 employees randomly through e-mail. Since many controllers aren’t online during the day, the agency mailed them cards with the URL to the survey so that they could do it at home.

    “Well, apparently the URL was shopped around to a much wider audience than the randomly selected group, and its new recipients were urged by bloggers to send a loud message about how dissatisfied they are with management,” said Gerald E. Lavey, deputy assistant administrator for corporate communications at the FAA, in an online memo to employees about the survey. “So when the results came in with this unprecedented rate of return from one segment of the workforce, we had more than ample reason to believe something was amiss.”

    As a result, the agency scrapped the survey. “Management still has to deal with the 2006 survey results, and prior survey results, showing that we need to do a lot of work to improve management effectiveness and accountability,” the memo states.

    Indeed, the 2006 employee attitude survey does not paint the picture of a happy workforce. The survey results demonstrate that the controllers are not alone in their distrust and dislike of FAA management.

    Sixty-four percent of respondents indicated that they distrust FAA management. Forty percent of respondents said they don’t believe that supervisors are effective in providing periodic coaching to improve performance. More than half of the respondents said they seldom hear that they do a good job.

    Two-thirds of respondents indicated that they had not seen a positive change in the agency’s emphasis on managing people over the previous two years. Sixty-one percent said they didn’t agree with the statement: “The organization has a real interest in the welfare and satisfaction of those who work at the agency.”

    John Palguta, vice president for policy at the Partnership for Public Service, isn’t surprised by the employee satisfaction survey results. Palguta helps put together the annual “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” list, in which the FAA ranked 204 out of 222 agencies.

    The rankings in his organization’s survey, he says, are weighted, based on the average of three questions from the 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey, conducted by the Office of Personnel Management: How satisfied are you with your job? How satisfied are you with your organization? Would you recommend your organization as a good place to work?

    “The FAA has been working for years to improve the people skills of its managers and supervisors,” he says.

    Palguta, who has worked in federal government for 37 years, is nevertheless hopeful that the agency can turn things around.

    “Government agencies may not be able to control their own appropriations, but they can control their own fate,” he says. “They just need to figure out what will improve employee engagement and get employees to feel good about themselves.”

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