Setting the Record Straight on the Term "Senior Leaders" in the FEVS

On October 22, SEA sent a press release to media contacts raising concerns yet again about the vague definitions of terms such as "senior leader" used in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).

Press Release:  Washington, D.C. – In multiple news stories analyzing the declining morale in the federal workforce, "senior leaders" are cited as a source of the morale problem. These stories then go on to equate "senior leader" with Senior Executive. Yet it is unclear from the definition in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) to whom "senior leader" refers – a political appointee, a career Senior Executive, or some other person the survey respondent considers "senior."

The Senior Executives Association (SEA) has long raised concerns about the vague definitions in the FEVS as well as their use in drawing specific conclusions about the workforce. Last year less than 50 percent of the workforce completed the survey and those who did were left to determine their own definition of "senior leader." This term could hold a wide range of meaning depending on where employees are located – in the field, in subcomponents, at agency headquarters, etc.

Further, the survey does not account for external factors such as pay freezes, furloughs, and budget cuts that may be attributed to senior leaders but are largely outside the control of agency leadership.

"The FEVS is a valuable point in time survey that should give an agency strong indicators of success or raise red flags. But SEA cautions against using the survey as a basis for policy decisions or specific conclusions regarding groups of employees, especially regarding "senior leader," stated Carol Bonosaro, SEA's president. "SEA looks forward to continuing our dialogue with OPM on improving the survey going forward."

SEA's November 2013 letter to the Office of Personnel Management raising specific concerns with the terminology of the survey is can be read here.

The Senior Executives Association (SEA) is a professional association representing Senior Executive Service members and other career federal executives. Founded in 1980, SEA's goals are: to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the federal government; to advance the professionalism and advocate the interests of career federal executives; and to enhance public recognition of their contributions. The SEA Professional Development League (PDL) is a nonprofit educational organization committed to advancing the professionalism of career federal executives through the sponsorship of training, recognition, and research activities.