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Report finds low morale, 'adversarial' culture at FEC

A new report from the Federal Election Commission's inspector general blames the agency's low employee morale at the feet of the commissioners who openly criticize the agency, and top managers whom employees view with "suspicion and distrust."

The report, based upon interviews, surveys, and focus groups conducted at all levels of the agency for the inspector general by the firm Job Performance Systems, found employees most often saying "the Commissioners were to blame" for low morale. The report was released on Tuesday.

"Actions and statements Commissioners make to each other are perceived by employees as signs of a partisan culture that is too often negative, unpleasant, and adversarial," the report states.  "This negative tone, in turn, affects how employees feel about their own jobs."

The report says the  "most troubling" finding was that "relatively few employees ... feel that the Commissioners value their work."

"Several employees whose job includes presenting matters to the Commissioners told us of instances in which they felt they had been unfairly put on the spot or attacked," the report says. "These employees felt like pawns in a larger battle between the Commissioners."

The Federal Election Commission is an independent, regulatory agency responsible for enforcing federal election laws and publishing campaign finance data. It also administers the public funding of presidential elections.

Six commissioners appointed by the president oversee the FEC. Three of the commissioners are Democrats, and three are Republicans. 

Anonymous survey comments from FEC employees said the commissioners "openly disrespect other Commissioners or staff," and "do not act on reports/recommendations for months or years."

Inspector General Lynne A. McFarland also discovered that "another very troubling sign" of the "major gulf" between employees and the agency's upper management is that employees "feared retribution should they voice their concerns and issues to management."

"We question how effective an organization can be when so many employees think management does not want to hear their ideas and concerns or may punish them for bringing them up," the report says.

In an anonymous survey comment to the inspector general, one employee said FEC managers "take an unprofessional, hard-nosed, punitive or bullying approach to managing staff, rather than seeing that they're responsible for helping to develop & to keeping staff motivated."

The report makes several recommendations for improving the atmosphere within the agency, but says that change must begin with the commissioners' "appreciation of the impact their statements and behaviors have on the workforce."

The report also recommends more effective, and more frequent, communication with employees.  "Until this happens, information gaps will continue to be filled by rumors and speculation."

The report also stresses the need for greater accountability and training of management, and that "supervisors and managers not performing to expected levels need to be dealt with appropriately."

Commission press officer Judith Ingram provided AMI Newswire with a statement from the six commissioners thanking the inspector general and those who participated in the report, "especially agency staff."

"We are reviewing and considering the report carefully, and plan to work with staff to develop constructive solutions," the commissioners said.