National Partnership for Reinventing Government
(formerly National Performance Review)


May 11, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 5

An Information Sheet for Federal Communicators, Managers, Workers, and Their Partners-Pass It On


* Public Trust in Government Is Going Up in Recent Years

* Recent Merit Systems Protection Board Report Relates Reinventing Government to More Employee Flexibility, Job Satisfaction, and Productivity

Public Trust in Government Is Going Up in Recent Years
Government reinventors are encouraged by a study completed late in 1997. The study reveals a slight upward trend in recent years in the number of Americans who trust their government. Thirty-nine percent of the public basically trusts the federal government to do the right thing, an 18-point gain since an all-time low of 21 percent in 1994. This contrasts with a high of 76 percent in 1964.

Over the years, trust in government is strongly connected to how people feel about the state of the nation. Today the national mood and trust are both up from the mid-1990s.

The Trust in Government Study was conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Survey findings are published in Deconstructing Distrust: How Americans View Government, released in March 1998.

Americans today give the government as a whole low performance ratings. Seventy-four percent say that the government does only a fair or poor job managing its programs and providing services. Similarly, most Americans give the federal government a low rating in handling current issues such as conserving natural resources or ensuring affordable health care. The one exception is ensuring food and drug safety, which 58 percent of Americans evaluate favorably.

Most Americans Like Individual Agencies and Put the Postal Service First
Despite their low rating of government in general, most Americans think highly of individual federal departments and agencies. The agencies with the highest favorable approval ratings (70 percent or higher), starting with the highest rating, are the US Postal Service, the National Park Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Defense Department, the Food and Drug Administration, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Just one of the 19 agencies assessed--the Internal Revenue Service--was not rated favorably.

In addition to the favorable opinion of agencies, sixty-nine percent of the public say that they have a favorable opinion of government workers—an improvement over the 55 percent in a 1981 Los Angeles Times survey. Most Americans agree that the federal government is basically sound and needs only some reform. Nearly all Americans express confidence that the government can work better.

Other Findings

  • By a margin of 67 percent to 16 percent, the public has more faith in federal workers than in their elected officials to do the right thing. Public opinion of political leaders declined after Watergate and has not recovered.

  • Performance drives public perceptions of government more than opinions of political leaders. Older people base their judgment more on performance; young people more on the basis of political leaders.

  • The public’s dislike of the federal government appears grounded in its handling of domestic rather than foreign affairs. In 1972, 75 percent had a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems; today 76 percent feel that way.

  • Most Americans describe themselves as frustrated with government, not angry at it.

How to Get a Copy
The study is on the web at You may get a hard copy by calling the Pew Research Center at (202) 293-3126.

Recent Merit Systems Protection Board Report Relates Reinventing Government to More Employee Flexibility, Job Satisfaction, and Productivity
A report issued in March to the President and the Congress by the US Merit Systems Protection Board contains some very powerful arguments in favor of reinventing government and the impact it has on employee satisfaction and productivity. The report, Changing Federal Workplace: Employee Perspectives, summarizes the results of a survey of more than 9700 federal government employees.

The survey asked these workers if their organizations had made NPR goals an important priority. "Congratulations to GSA, HUD, and SBA, who scored the highest—60 percent or better," Vice President Gore told a meeting of sub-cabinet officials on April 24. Organizations that emphasized NPR goals had employees who were much more satisfied with their jobs than organizations that had not.

Here are other MSPB findings:

  • 59% of employees who worked in organizations that they said had made NPR goals a priority said that productivity had improved vs. 32% in non-NPR impacted organizations.

  • 60% of NPR impacted employees said they now had greater flexibility in doing their jobs compared to only 38% in non-NPR organizations.

  • Employees in reinvented organizations were three times more likely to say that their organization made good use of their ability and twice as likely to say their opinions counted.

The not-so-good news is that only 37% of those surveyed said that NPR goals had been made an important priority in their organization. Even among those who said it had, only 35% said it had had a positive impact on their organization (vs. the impact of downsizing and other issues).

How to Get a Copy
The report is on the Web at For a hard copy, call (800) 209-8960 or V/TDD, (202) 653-8896.

National Partnership for Reinventing Government, 750-17th St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006. The Express is on the Internet at Click on News Room. To subscribe by e-mail, send a message to Put this message: SUBSCRIBE EXPRESS-L FIRSTNAME LASTNAME. For fax, send fax number to or fax to (202) 632-0390.

NPR Home Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Site Index Calendar Comments Awards Links Tools Frequently Asked Questions Speeches News Releases Library Navigation Bar For NPR site