The GAO perennially ranks among the top places to work. It came in third last year.

Ron LaDue Lake, a senior methodologist at the agency and president of Local 1921 of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers at the agency, credits much of the job satisfaction to the work itself: Researching and writing reports that are mandated by law or requested by Congress.

GAO analysts get unprecedented access to information to conduct their work, LaDue Lake said.

"Other organizations would drool to have the kind of access that we have," he said. "Not that we always get what we think we need."

The environment, he adds, is intellectually stimulating.

"We have very bright colleagues," LaDue Lake said. "That doesn't mean we always agree, but we have very interesting discussions as we go about our work."

The GAO is part of the legislative branch, but has been affected by the pay freeze on the executive side. This has caused some employees to leave, adding stress on those left behind to pick up more of the workload, LaDue Lake said.

Still, morale at the GAO is far higher than at Homeland Security, which ranked 31st of 33 large agencies in job satisfaction.

Homeland Security is made up of many agencies, and worker satisfaction varies among them. Job satisfaction, for instance, is above average at the U.S. Coast Guard, but much lower at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and, of course, the TSA.

"It's a tough job," Palguta said of the work of TSA employees. "I go out of my way to be nice to them."

'Best places to work'

Large agencies:

1. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

2. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

3. Government Accountability Office

4. Smithsonian Institution

5. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Small agencies:

1. Surface Transportation Board

2. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

3. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

4. Peace Corps

5. Farm Credit Administration

Source: 2011 Best Places To Work, Partnership for Public Service

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