The government-wide Federal Employee Viewpoints Survey (FEVS) is still awaiting formal release by the Office of Personnel Management, but enough agencies have reported their individual results to recognize a pattern.  The biggest agencies are receiving low marks on the same items they did in previous years.

According to FEDweek, some of the most negative responses were that low-performing employees were allowed to continue performing poorly, and that high-performers weren’t recognized in any meaningful way.  And although more than 80% of employees felt that their immediate supervisor treated them with respect, many employees felt that senior managers were not committed to the agency and failed to motivate agency staff.

The most damaging feedback, however, was the low percentage of employees who thought the survey would have an impact on their agency. At the Department of Homeland Security, only 41% of employees said that they thought the results of the survey would be used to make their agency a better place to work.  At the Department of Defense the number was also 41%, while it was 52% for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It’s a sad state of affairs that around half of all employees at these massive agencies have given up on their opinions leading to any change in their own agencies.

Agency employees may believe a survey response and a hotline tip to an Inspector General’s office will have two very different outcomes. But they also may not – and that’s obviously a problem for oversight agencies. Employee tips are often the first way investigators become aware of wrongdoing at many agencies, including wrongdoing that regular audits, inspections or evaluations might have missed entirely. When most employees don’t believe that their feedback will be used to improve the agency in any meaningful way, those tips will stop coming.

Engaged Employees Are Better Employees

The other problem with employees viewing their feedback as irrelevant is that according to HR analytics firm Gallup, employees are more likely to be engaged in their job if they believe that their opinions count.  (They’re also more likely to be engaged if they believe they’re receiving frequent recognition for their contributions – another common shortcoming in the FEVS survey).

Gallup defines employee engagement as “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”  Engagement is important; organizations ranking in the top quartile of employee engagement rates have 28% less theft, 18% higher productivity and 41% fewer quality defects.  Put another way, organizations with higher rates of engaged employees have lower rates of fraud and waste. 

So when employees feel unheard, that’s a red flag for investigators.

What Investigators Can Do About It

If you oversee an agency’s activities, do the employees of that agency trust you to take action on their tips?  Do they believe it will lead to a better agency?  Do they believe it will lead to a better workplace?

Here are three ways to reach out to employees who don’t think their employing agency views their input as valuable – and show them that there will be a difference between the outcomes of answering a survey and reporting wrongdoing to an investigative oversight agency.

Emphasize Independence

If your investigative team doesn’t report to agency leadership, make sure employee know that and understand what it means in terms of your mandate.  If your team does sit inside the agency, make sure employees know what latitude you have to take employees’ concerns wherever they need to go in order to be addressed properly, both within and outside of the agency.  Otherwise, if employees believe senior leadership is the agency’s problem, they’re unlikely to waste their time reporting bad behavior to someone who they think is powerless to stop it.

Demonstrate Results

When an employee tip leads to an investigation that substantiates bad behavior, share what you can about that investigation with other agency employees after the results are reported to oversight bodies.  Of course, if the case wasn’t prosecuted criminally, privacy concerns will prevent many identifying details from being shared. But providing even general information about the case allows employees to see and hear that an employee tip led to an outcome, whether that was discipline, terminations or financial recoveries. 

Lower the Hurdles of Employee Risk and Effort

Make sure you’re doing what you can to help employees feel safe when reporting fraud or abuse, especially if it’s happening within their team or involves their supervisor.  At a minimum, employees should have access to a web form that they can submit anonymously (not through their agency’s network).  Any assurances you can offer that their tip won’t become public and cost them their job or require their continued involvement throughout the investigation will increase the likelihood that employees will make that first, critical outreach to your investigative team.

To learn how CMTS helps Inspectors General and other government investigative agencies fight fraud, waste and abuse, call us at 855-667-8877 or email us at