FEC employees: a bedraggled lot

Staffers at federal election regulator give own agency low marks

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Federal Election Commission employees — a generally unhappy lot for years — are even more unsatisfied with their jobs than before.

That's the bleak conclusion drawn from the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey's satisfaction index, which places the election law enforcer and regulator near the bottom of 41 small agencies ranked.

The FEC received an employee "global satisfaction" score of 43 out of 100, down a point from last year and 12 points from 2010, according to the annual survey released today by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. 

Only the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (36) and African Development Foundation (18) received a lower score than the FEC among small agencies. 

The average score among small federal agencies is 62.

Personal tensions and ideological clashes among the FEC's six commissioners — three Democratic appointees, three Republican appointees — often color the agency's decisions on election law matters.

That's if commissioners decide anything at all: they often deadlock on votes that affect a slew of campaign issues, from how politicians spent money to the kinds of disclaimers people must place on election messages.

The FEC has also suffered from a leadership vacuum in key areas, most notably going 767 days without anyone leading its legal department, which accounts for about one-third of the agency's staff.

And the White House and Congress generally pay the agency little attention.

For example, five of six FEC commissioners continue to serve despite their terms having expired, and President Barack Obama has not nominated new commissioners for the U.S. Senate to review and formally appoint.

FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel, a Democrat, told the Center for Public Integrity that "it's discouraging that the staff, who are hardworking and care about the agency, have these concerns. It's the commission's responsibility to try to address that going forward."

Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, also a Democrat, said she had not yet read the survey's results and declined to comment. The four other FEC commissioners, along with agency staff director Alec Palmer, could not be reached for comment.

Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Beth Cobert said in a statement that “as leaders, we know that employee engagement drives performance and is closely tied to mission success in the federal government, which means better service for our customers, the American people." 

Three rank-and-file FEC employees interviewed Monday told a similar story about agency morale: that it's bad and getting worse. They spoke under condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with reporters and were afraid of retribution. 

The staffers' primary gripe FEC employees often don't feel as if their work is valued by agency leaders, if it's acknowledged at all.

That sentiment is broadly reflected in the satisfaction survey's subcategories.

Just 32 percent of FEC employees responding to the survey said they were satisfied with the FEC as an organization.

Even fewer, 30 percent, said they'd recommend people work at the agency.

In both these cases, the FEC ranked 39th out of 41 small federal agencies polled.

The FEC fared marginally better in terms of employee pay satisfaction and personal job satisfaction.

More than half of the FEC's staff — 163 employees — responded to the 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.

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