First Look

After multiple delays, Connolly troubled by ‘apparent mishandling’ of employee viewpoint survey

This story was updated on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 5:05 p.m. to reflect a statement from the Office of Personnel Management. 

A top Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee is disturbed by the multiple delays to the federal government’s annual employee viewpoint survey.

“The subcommittee is concerned about the apparent mishandling of the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey by the Office of Personnel Management,” Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, said Wednesday in a letter to the agency’s acting director. “For a second time this year, OPM has abruptly postponed the administration of the FEVS, providing conflicting and contradictory reasoning for the need to do so.

OPM postponed the employee viewpoint survey at the end of March to allow agencies to focus on their missions and the government’s still-nascent response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The survey would go out to employees on July 13, OPM announced at the time.

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The House subcommittee told OPM in mid-April it supported the initial decision to delay the survey.

“This year, OPM has a unique opportunity to collect information that the federal government currently lacks: data on how agencies lead and manage during a crisis,” subcommittee Democrats told the agency this spring. “Federal employees have continued to work and deliver critical services to the public while combating an unprecedented global health crisis. An examination of the efficacy of agency leadership is more important now than ever before.”

OPM briefed the subcommittee back in early May, where the agency described its efforts to administer the viewpoint survey in July and include additional questions covering employees’ continued operations during the pandemic.

“At this meeting, OPM staff indicated that they were taking all necessary steps to ensure that the survey would be administered in July and that it would not be delayed again,” Connolly wrote.

In June, acting OPM Director Michael Rigas told chief human capital officers about the pandemic-related questions the agency planned to add to the upcoming viewpoint survey.

“With the addition of the COVID-19 pandemic section, the survey also provides employees an opportunity to participate in data collection with the potential to shape future policies and inter-agency learning regarding human capital management in the face of an emergency,” Rigas said in June 25 memo.

But a day or two before the viewpoint survey was supposed to go out to the field, OPM announced it would delay the FEVS a second time. It would push back survey administration to Sept. 14, where agencies would have six weeks to field and collect results, OPM said. It didn’t provide a reason for the delay.

But the delay, without a reason, is concerning for the subcommittee.

“It is concerning that OPM would, without reasonable warning or justification, delay the FEVS a second time,” Connolly wrote. “Views of federal employees should never be ignored, especially during a time of crisis, a sentiment OPM officials agreed with at their May briefing with the subcommittee.”

Connolly has asked for a follow-up briefing with OPM about the survey, as well as any emails, documents or other information on the decision to postpone the FEVS.

OPM said it has received Connolly’s letter and will respond “as appropriate.”

Agencies are required by law to conduct an annual feedback survey of federal employees. OPM is required by law to set standardized survey questions for the purposes of comparing leadership and engagement scores across many agencies.

OPM last year included a new set of questions to measure the impact of the most recent government shutdown on employee satisfaction. Engagement remained relatively stable, despite a tumultuous 2019.