work weak

When I first got this job at the Department of State, people kept telling me that the State Department was a great agency for which to work, and that the Foreign Service Institute was the best bureau within the agency. And I felt a certain sense of homecoming, given that my first real-world job was a summer clerical position at the State Department between my sophomore and junior years of college.

And, to be fair, there are some benefits to working here. For example, the commute really can’t be beat: it’s a mile and a half door-to-door, and that’s against traffic. By car it takes about ten minutes during rush hour, on foot about twenty.

It’s a fascinating place, in many respects, feeling as much like an academic institution as a government facility, and with a beautiful 70+ acre campus. And my co-workers, by and large, are an interesting, intelligent lot; the language instructors, especially–all of whom are native speakers–come from an amazing variety of personal and professional backgrounds.

And, while my salary is half what it was in the private sector, at first I thought it was a worthwhile trade-off because I was working only about half to two-thirds the number of hours I was putting in at the dot-com. More recently, though, I’ve been putting in ten, eleven and twelve-hour days on a regular basis. The workload keeps increasing and shows no sign of slowing down, and along with the lack of recognition, bureaucracy and the overweening, unmerited self-importance and sheer idiocy of a certain percentage of government employees is increasingly frustrating, stifling and stressful.

Earlier this week, the Partnership for Public Service and the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation published rankings of the “best places to work in the federal government,” based on surveys of federal employees. Out of 28 cabinet departments and independent agencies, the State Department came in at 19th place, with a score of 61.9 (the highest rated agency, NASA, scored 71.4, while the lowest, FEMA, scored 58.0). Even the Air Force (number 7), Army (10) and Navy (12) were deemed better agencies for which to work, though at least we were deemed better than the Marine Corps (25).

Currently, I have an application in for a position with the Department of the Interior, which is tied with Commerce for 8th place. The particular subagency at which I’m applying–the National Park Service–itself is tied for 45th place in a field of 115 separately identified subagencies. Among subagencies, NASA again took the lead, with the top four subagency slots–and half of the top ten–coming from that agency. EPA had three of the other five top ten spots, with Treasury’s ATF and the GSA’s Federal Supply Service rounding out the top ten.

On the other hand, State was ranked 7th in terms of lowest turnover rate, with only 4.7% separations in FY2002. I wonder if that means I’m more or less stuck here.