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Duncan to Education Department Employees: Help Me Help You

By Alyson Klein — May 28, 2009 1 min read
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In case you missed it, according a survey released earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education was ranked as one of the absolute worst places to work in the federal government. (For a quick summary, check out the The Washington Post‘s story on the survey).

To be fair, 400 Maryland Ave. wasn’t dead last. That honor belonged to the Department of Transportation. But it ranked 27th out of the 30 large agencies surveyed.

The survey, conducted by the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit in Washington, used data from the Office of Personnel Management’s federal human capital survey, from fiscal year 2008, well before President Barack Obama took office.

Well, Secretary of Education “Call me Arne” Duncan saw that survey, and yesterday, he told ED employees he’s out to change that culture, and he wants their help and input.

Here’s a snippet from his email to employees:

I knew from day one that I needed your feedback to make this a more focused, results-oriented, efficient, and great place to work. We have a critical agenda, and we will not be successful without everyone's involvement. The survey results on which rankings are based show that while employee satisfaction has increased at ED in recent years, we still have a long way to go. Coming in 27th out of 30 federal agencies in this new report is not where I want the Department to be. I take the specific findings of where we fall short very seriously. And I want to learn more about the previous efforts to address these shortcomings, find out what worked and what didn't, and develop a thoughtful approach that can help us create real and lasting change in ED's culture. The current findings suggest that people don't feel they are being listened to, and I expect our leadership and our managers to take responsibility for changing that. We need to make sure management understands your concerns and works to address them. We need to make sure to open the lines of communication between my new leadership team and you, the people most familiar with our challenges and opportunities. You need to know how your work impacts and advances our priorities, and that your work matters.

The memo seems like another indication of Duncan’s managerial style—or at least how he wants to be perceived over at the Department. From reportedly giving out his personal cell phone number to rural school superintendents to hearing concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act in school districts across the country, it’s pretty clear Duncan is (or wants to be perceived as) The Nice Guy Who Listens.

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