Is Everybody Happy at the DOJ? Far From It, Annual Survey Finds
By David Stout | December 13, 2012 3:10 pm

The Department of Justice is a huge bureaucracy, so it comes as no surprise that not everyone who works in it is happy all the time.  But people in the Antitrust and Criminal divisions must be doing a lot of grumbling around the water coolers, or over the eggnog bowls, given the time of year.

At least that is what a reader could infer from a cursory look at the seventh annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey released on Thursday, which compiled results from nearly 700,000 federal workers in 362 agencies.

Overall, the DOJ ranks eighth among the biggest agencies surveyed, meaning the halls of Main Justice are much more cheerful than those at the Department of Homeland Security, the least happy big organization, but considerably less jolly than the corridors, hangars and launch pads of the happiest agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Morale at the space agency is stratospheric, so to speak.

The entire DOJ scored a 63.8 out of a possible 100 on the happiness index, down 4.5 points from last year’s results, as c0mpiled by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The index measures workers’ satisfaction (or lack thereof) with a wide range of issues, including leadership, pay, career opportunities and their bosses’ commitment to diversity.  (Although it is oversimplifying a bit, the numbers can be viewed as percentages of employees who say they are satisfied with aspects of their job.)

Attention, Attorney General Eric Holder and other top DOJ officials: the survey finds some complaints about you, giving the DOJ only a 52.9 score in the “effective leadership” category, down about 5 points from the year before.

Civil Division acting chief Stuart Delery testifies before a House Judiciary subcommittee on May 31, 2012. Photo by Elizabeth Murphy/Main Justice

But take heart with these factoids, DOJ leaders: men and women in the department are about equally satisfied with their jobs, and there is no “generation gap,” meaning those age 40 and older are apparently experiencing no more cynicism and burnout than their younger colleagues.

Let’s go to some really good news. Morale in the Civil Division, currently headed by Stuart F. Delery, a Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General,  is high. The index measured the unit’s overall morale at 79.5, down only slightly from prior years. But don’t get complacent, Stuart: men in your camp are several points happier than women, and your younger employees are slightly less content than older ones.

The happiest DOJ outfit of all seems to be the Environment and Natural Resources Division, headed by Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno, which scored 80.9. The unit’s leadership is rated high, and most of the work force seems to feel good — although Moreno may want to investigate why women rate themselves less content than men. (Even as we type this, the folks at the division are feeling good about taking down a criminal enterprise that trafficked in feathers of golden eagles and other migratory bird parts.)

Moreno at her installation ceremony (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

Now for some sobering findings.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer has had to endure a lot of criticism over the past year, about communication lapses in his Criminal Division and high-profile prosecutions that tanked.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Criminal Division scored a dismal 51.2, down steeply from 63.7 in 2011 and from prior years, when the indexes were in the mid- to high-60’s.

The Criminal Division’s “effective leadership” rating was 46.1, down about 10 points from the year before.  Men in the unit are apparently slightly happier than women. Alas, workers over age 40 are much less happy than their younger counterparts, by 11 points.

And Renata B. Hesse, acting Assistant Attorney General and head of the Antitrust Division, you inherited a problem: your employees’ work-satisfaction index was 45.8, down sharply from last year’s 59.3 and way down from the several prior years, when the scores were in the mid- to high 70’s. Satisfaction with senior leaders in Antitrust scored a mere 33.1. Men and women are about equally happy (or unhappy) in the unit, but older workers are less happy than their younger counterparts.

But let no one rush to judgment about Hesse: she was named to her post just four weeks ago, replacing Joseph Wayland, who had served only since April. He replaced Sharis Pozen, who took over from Christine Varney in August 2011. If there is a lesson here, it may be that frequent changes in leadership foment anxiety in the ranks.

Lanny Breuer (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Meanwhile, satisfaction is relatively high at the Tax Division, which only got a Senate-confirmed leader this year after three years of care-takers. The division measured 75 on the index, though morale was down five points from the 2011 score of 80.1.

Among all federal employees, there seems to be a general sagging of morale, according to The Washington Post, which analyzes the survey in depth. The survey is a cornucopia of data, offering insights into what makes our federal government work, when it does work.

But how to explain the good mood at NASA? After all, it was 40 years ago this week when two astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission walked on the moon — the last human beings to do so. The shuttle program is over. And we’re not going to Mars any time soon.

“Our future was not as clear when people said goodbye to the shuttle,’’Jeri Buchholz, NASA’s personnel director, told The Post.  “But people rolled into new projects. They knew there really was a future in space exploration.”

A final reflection. There was a time when “work” meant a way to keep a roof overhead and bread on the table, quite literally. The men who toiled in the mines and mills, doing back-breaking, lung-searing work while their wives labored endlessly at home, were not asked about their “work-life balance” or their sense of “empowerment,” as federal employees are now. Workers, rejoice!

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