In a battle of the bureaucracies, the Office of Management and Budget (search) is king.

The high-profile executive agency was crowned the best place to work in federal government by a study assessing employees' job satisfaction. Ranked third was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (search), which also scored highly among minority groups and younger workers.

Clay Johnson, OMB's deputy director for management, said he used the good news Wednesday morning to provide some perspective for his senior staff, which has been working on relief efforts for the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast.

"People were stressed out and people were bickering ... I stopped everybody and said, 'As bad as it seems now, remember, this is the best place to work, so no matter how disconcerted we are with OMB today, it's worse everywhere else,'" Johnson joked in a panel discussion at the Willard InterContinental Washington hotel.

The study, released Wednesday, was conducted by American University and the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which aims to boost interest in government work. It was based on an Office of Personnel Management survey given last year to 150,000 civil servants.

Rankings were compiled from an index of 10 workplace satisfaction categories, ranging from pay and benefits to how well employees are able to balance their work and personal lives. Thirty large federal agencies were assessed, and smaller agencies were ranked in a separate listing.

When the study was last released in 2003, its inaugural year, NASA (search) ranked first, not only overall, but in eight of the 10 categories. Though the agency dropped to sixth overall this year, it remained highly ranked by women and was found to have the most support for diversity and most effective leadership among the surveyed agencies.

It should be noted that data for the previous study was collected before the Columbia shuttle explosion in February 2003, which has since sent the agency into several phases of administrative and technical upheaval.

The Department of Homeland Security, which did not exist when the 2003 data was collected, ranked 29th overall in the study.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which houses 3,000 employees nationwide, ranked second in the "effective leadership" category and garnered top rankings from blacks and workers under the age of 40.

"They really focus on training the younger staff," said Amy Prible, 24, an international relations specialist at NRC. "They also put time and dedication into training younger people to step in the roles of retiring staff."

One factor that may have contributed to the agency's high approval among under-40 workers is that it also ranked highest in the category of balancing work and personal life. By contrast, the overall top-ranked OMB ranked 20th in the same category.

Serita Sanders, 40, a reactor operations engineer at NRC for 16 years, cited the agency's flexibility in allowing her to change her work schedule a few years ago to accommodate her ailing father.

Also according to the study, the federal government's stature among its employees is gaining ground on comparable private industries: In 2003, one in eight agencies scored higher than the private sector average; this year, one in three did.

But there is still much work to do, said Bob Tobias, director of the Institute for the Study of Public Policy Implementation at AU. He noted that performance-based rewards and recognition were overall the lowest-rated areas of the study.

"There's going to be a lot of pain before we make real progress there, and it's going to take a number of years."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.