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Is the U.S. Department of Education a Good Place to Work?

Based on the latest Best Places to Work survey, the U.S. Department of Education is perhaps not the best place to work in the federal government.

Among 22 mid-size federal agencies, the Education Department ranked 18th in job satisfaction in 2012—ahead of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Board of Broadcasting Governors, for example.

Coming in at No. 1 was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

It's hard to compare the Education Department's rankings with previous years since the authors of the survey, the Partnership for Public Service, seem to have created this year a new "mid-size" category of federal agencies—in addition to "large" and "small" agencies. In previous years, the Education Department was considered a large agency and ranked near the bottom of that category too.

The Education Department's low ranking comes as job satisfaction in that department, and government wide, have declined since 2011 and beyond. The Washington Post aptly points out that morale is at its lowest point in nearly a decade, despite pledges by the Obama administration to make federal government employment a more-exciting prospect.

In fact, when Duncan first took office, he said that if his agency didn't rise in the job-satisfaction rankings, "you can hold me accountable."

There is one sub-category that the worker bees in the Education Department are giving better and better scores to: effective leadership. (Arguably, a reflection of Duncan's work.)

And, relative to other agencies, the Education Department does far better in the rankings when it comes to pay and effective leadership, ranking 8th and 11th, respectively, out of 22 mid-size agencies.

But the agency's scores in most other areas, including strategic management, work/life balance, and teamwork, have declined at least slightly since 2009.

Interestingly, the number of employees at the department has grown since 2009, due in part to the nearly $100 billion in economic-stimulus aid tied to education. The employment trend shows a decade-high of 4,300 employees in 2001, declining to nearly 3,800 in 2009, then bouncing back to nearly 4,100 in 2011.

Among those who work at the agency, folks in the Office of the Inspector General seem the happiest and give the highest marks to their jobs. The office with the lowest satisfaction score? Postsecondary education.

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