FOIAing the Trump Administration: A look at federal employee satisfaction surveys

FOIAing the Trump Administration: A look at federal employee satisfaction surveys

Plus, Ajit Pai claims deliberative process privilege over his jokes

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Edited by JPat Brown

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service analyzed data from the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to create an index ranking of which agencies are the best places to work, according to their employees. One of the most interesting ways to sort this ranking is the change from 2016 to 2017. In many cases, FOIA has given us clues about why certain agencies experienced big swings in employee satisfaction in the first year of the Trump administration. In other cases, this statistic can tell us which agencies - particularly smaller, seldom covered ones - warrant more FOIA scrutiny.

You can help hold the Trump administration accountable by filing a records request of your own, following MuckRock’s “FOIA the Trump Administration” project, and joining our Slack channel to share ideas and get help with your requests. If you have a Trump administration-related FOIA you would like us to highlight, share it over email, Twitter, or Facebook, and we may include them in the next roundup.

The Trump administration’s most dissatisfied employees

According to Partnership for Public Service’s rankings, The Department of State had the largest negative change in employee satisfaction among large agencies in the first year of the Trump administration. According to recent reporting, FOIA might be one of the major causes of this dissatisfaction. Many career employees at State have been reassigned to tasks they view as menial, such as responding to FOIA requests. While the sidelining of expertise is an important issue worthy of public discussion, we at MuckRock hope these staffers come to view responding to FOIAs as a noble calling, if not the one they think is the best use of their particular talents.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board experienced the largest negative swing for a small agency - and reporting driven by FOIA over the past year gives us a good idea why. Correspondence obtained by The Center for Public Integrity shows that for the past several years, the board has been plagued by infighting. Before he became chairman, Republican board member Sean Sullivan worked to oust then chairman Peter Winokur. When he ascended to the chair with Trump’s election, Sullivan advocated for the agency to be shuttered entirely. On February 8th, Sullivan resigned, citing his staff’s lack of confidence in his leadership.

DNFSB Chairman Sean Sullivan defends his undermining of the previous chairman in a letter to a colleague.

Other agencies with large swings toward employee dissatisfaction warrant further investigation and FOIA requests. What’s going on at the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board? Why the sudden unhappiness at the National Credit Union Association? Employee dissatisfaction is often a sign of leadership problems or dramatic and controversial changes at agencies.

Large jumps in the other direction are also meaningful. The Department of Homeland Security, an agency with a historically unhappy workforce, experienced one of the largest positive changes in employee satisfaction in the first year of the Trump administration. The satisfaction presumably comes from new freedoms to exercise their authority.

FCC protects Ajit Pai’s comedy process

The Federal Communications Commission refuses to release records related to a video skit in which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and a Verizon executive joke about installing a “Verizon puppet” to head the agency.

The FCC is claiming deliberative process privilege and arguing that the release of these records under FOIA would harm the agency. The FOIA, filed by Gizmodo, seeks information on how the video was put together. FOIA experts have pointed out that this is an unusual and questionable use of this privilege, because it has nothing to do with the business of the FCC and its policy decisionmaking, but rather about Pai’s choice to produce a comedic sketch with an executive of a business he is charged with regulating.

Emoluments update

Last week’s edition of “FOIAing the Trump Administration” dealt with the difficulting of tracking how Trump is profiting from the presidency.

Evidence of these profits continue to trickle out via FOIA nonetheless. Read Emma Best’s report on documents showing The General Services Administration making payments to the Trump International Hotel.

You can also join our Slack channel to share ideas for FOIAing the Trump administration or to get help with your own requests.

Image by Joyce N. Boghosian via White House Flickr