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Sliding a Little

It hasn't been the best time to be a government worker. A new survey from the Partnership for Public Service found that the average score of all federal agencies on a good-place-to-work index has fallen by about three points, ScienceInsider reports, noting that the survey was taken before the government shutdown. This, it adds, is the third consecutive year in which ratings declined. The National Institutes of Health, though, took a more substantial dive this year, dropping 6.5 points.

The index was based on government employees' ranking of three survey items asking whether they would recommend their organization as a place to work, how satisfied they are with their job, and how satisfied they are with their organization. The results were broken down by large agencies, mid-size agencies, small agencies, and agency components. The top-ranked for each were the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Surface Transportation Board, and the Patent and Trademark Office, respectively.

NIH ranked 108th out of 300 agency components with a score of 62.7. The metrics that seem to irk NIH workers is pay — that metric fell by some 11.5 points — and leadership — that fell by 5.5 points.

"I think it's a trickle-down effect from a lot of factors," says Phil Lenowitz, deputy director of NIH's Office of Human Resources, tells ScienceInsider. "These things weigh you down, and you start looking for someone to blame." Lenowitz notes that the pay freeze, shrinking travel budgets, and lack of bonuses are likely factors contributing to discontent, but says that they were imposed by Congress or the White House. However, he adds that some workers may blame NIH leadership for not "pushing back harder."

While the National Science Foundation garnered just about the same overall score as NIH that represents a 1.4 bump for the agency since last year.

"Although it's impossible to make a causal connection between the continued roller coaster budget rides and worker attitudes toward their agency, this year's survey contains data that seem to point in that direction," ScienceInsider notes. "The Office of Management and Budget, the White House's lead agency in the budget wars, fell 14 points this year, from an impressive 70.7 in 2012 to a middling 56.7 in 2013."