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Duncan to Education Department Employees: Help Me Help You


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.


The Ed.Gov is one place where accountability and client achievement are the same. How many educators work at this agency? Educators with 20 or more years experience? This may be the root of the problem. Too many disconnected voices with opinions grounded in bureaucracy rather than learning environments.

I've seen job postings for six figures...not too many public education folks earn a wage equal to those amounts. We need more educators in the agency...THEN....empower them in a framework of "Organizational Learning" (Senge)to address the disconnects in the agency and with schooling entities.

With technology, many of the "future educator employees" do not have to reside inside the beltway. Create regional field offices, personalize programs to embrace a laser-like focus on assessed needs to further develop an effective and thorough system for supporting our county's educators.

I have had the pleasure of knowing a number of wonderful people at the U.S. Department of Education. However, I have learned of the frustrations they face in their work. I encourage the Secretary to take substantive steps to address the concerns of these highly qualified and capable professionals. Promoting a positve work climate for employees at the US Department of Education is the foundation for promoting effective education policy. Their work is extremely important and to carry it out effectively, they need a supportive work environment.

Duncan didn't give his phone no. to any parents, did he? Going over his reported meetings and confabs since he's taken office, it appears that parents and representatives of parents, including disability-education groups, are at the bottom of the Duncan totem pole.

Just who is he running the Education Department for, anyway? Who are his perceived clients?

Perhaps if the Dept. started doing real things for parents - the ones who know what their children need - instead of trying to keep the education "suits" management boys' officialdom so happy, folks who work there would feel better about what they do since they wouldn't be faced with reality every time they leave work and ... gasp! ... run into ... horror of horrors! ... real, live parents. Including their neighbors.

Ed employees are encouraged to speak their mind at the new OpenED Forum intranet site. Problem is it is not anonymous. With reprisals at an all time high at the Department and at the "Psych Ward" known also as Federal Student Aid, it is impossible to speak your mind freely without reprisal. Yes, we know reprisals are not supposed to exist, but the process for grievances, even the Inspector General office and EEO process, are severely broken. The previous secretary knew about this but did nothing. That is why the report reflects the environment from the previous administration. The current administration needs to remove the PBO status of FSA and bring it back under the Big ED umbrella which will relieve about 90 percent of the problems. Arne needs to take more action against the managers who are given free reign since the grievance process is broken and the employees have lost hope of getting a fair representation. Even the union has been ineffective due to the hobbling of the grievance process and EEO and IG complaint process. The IG won't even look into cases where managers are falsifying their time sheets but yet employees are not allowed to telework without "having enough work to do", as is the standard response from managers who, on a whim, decide to work from home. Authority is flaunted frequently at the Department and it shows in the survey. If Arne wants to change the environment he should start by replacing the middle and upper managers and remove the PBO status of FSA. He should also review the BONUSES that Managers have been getting since the PBO status was given, especially since the Terri Shaw regime was in place at FSA. There should also be an investigation on how Perot Data Systems was able to get 5 contracts within 2 years without ever having any previous contracts at the department. Of course I would ppost this on the ED intranet but I don't want to be targeted by the managers who would be included in the "regime change". If anyone from the department reads this then send it on to Arne.

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