Amid complaints about leadership, workers rank ICE close to last in satisfaction survey

Employees at the country's immigration enforcement arm rate their agency as one of the worst places to work in the federal government.

Of 240 agencies surveyed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement achieved a ranking of 222.

The ratings were released earlier this year by the Partnership for Public Service, drawing on official survey responses from more than 266,000 government employees. The findings gain new relevance in light of a lawsuit filed by a spurned ICE employee who claims the agency has taken on a "frat-house"-style work environment -- and in light of claims made in connection with that suit about allegedly lewd behavior by ICE Chief of Staff Suzanne Barr.

Barr is now on leave, according to the agency, while the Department of Homeland Security inspector general and another internal ICE office investigate.

The department plans to fight the lawsuit, but the comprehensive worker satisfaction survey released earlier this year suggests the plaintiff in that case isn't the only ICE employee who feels something isn't right about the agency's work culture.

On the overall measure of "employee satisfaction and commitment," the survey showed ICE ranked number 222 of 240, with a score of 52.5 out of 100. That number was down slightly in 2011 from the year prior.

In the survey, employees homed in on the issue of leadership, where some of the worst scores were recorded.

On the question of whether ICE officials demonstrated "effective leadership," employees ranked the agency 218 of 228 that responded.

The response on the question of the effectiveness of senior leaders was worse -- ICE ranked 220 of 228, with a score of 38.1 out of 100.

And on the issue of "family-friendly culture and benefits," ICE ranked 226 of 228, with a score of 20.8.

The survey, based on numbers from the Office of Personnel Management's annual worker survey, does not get into specifics on why some employees felt dissatisfied. Several DHS agencies consistently rank toward the bottom of this list, including the Transportation Security Administration.

As for ICE, the unions representing both ICE and Border Patrol -- which falls under Customs and Border Protection -- have recently complained about immigration policies that they claim illegal immigrants are exploiting.

According to conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel, who first broke the story about the suit filed by James T. Hayes Jr., ICE Director John Morton addressed the employer satisfaction survey earlier this year.

He reportedly said in a memo that the ranking "concerns me and ICE leadership" and that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano created a committee to address it.

An ICE spokesperson told that the agency has since held town hall meetings with employees to gather feedback and launched other programs toward the goal of improving morale.

"ICE leadership continues to analyze and act on the results of last year's OPM's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey using the feedback we received from our employees," the spokesperson said. "Our work is not yet done, but we continue to make great strides in improving employee morale throughout the agency. Employee feedback is crucial in order to craft real, sustainable solutions to challenges that were identified. ICE anticipates receiving this year's survey results in October 2012, and we believe the changes we have made will ultimately be reflected in future reports."

The lawsuit filed by Hayes, the head of the New York ICE office, claimed he was pushed aside from another ICE post in favor of a woman who knew Napolitano from their days working together in Arizona. It claimed he was retaliated against when he complained.

Two more purported ICE employees came forward this week to complain about "lewd" conduct inside the agency, submitting affidavits that depict graphic comments made by two top officials.

Both accounts described the actions of Barr, who was also mentioned in Hayes' lawsuit.

In the newly emerging affidavits, one of the employees claimed that in October 2009, while in a discussion about Halloween plans, the individual witnessed Barr turn to a senior ICE employee and say: "You a sexy" (expletive deleted).

"She then looked at his crotch and asked, 'How long is it anyway?'" according to the affidavit.

"Several employees laughed nervously," the affidavit said. The names of the workers making the claims have been redacted.

ICE Public Affairs Director Brian Hale said in a written statement that the department would respond "directly and strongly" to the lawsuit in court, but noted internal measures were being taken over the claims against Barr.

ICE has called Hayes' claims "unfounded." Hayes had several misconduct probes launched against him in the past, though they were concluded without an actual finding of misconduct.