Reversing the Lens: Assessing the Use of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey in Public Administration Research

AuthorColin Angus Leslie,Tima Moldogaziev,Sergio Fernandez,William Resh
Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 132 –162
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19865012
Reversing the Lens: Assessing
the Use of Federal Employee
Viewpoint Survey in Public
Administration Research
William Resh1, Tima Moldogaziev2,
Sergio Fernandez3, and Colin Angus Leslie1
Despite the proliferation of published work using the U.S. Office of Personnel
Management’s (OPM) Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) data, the scholarly
community to date lacks a review of the practices and value associated with how
scholars have used the survey data in their research. We turn a lens at the public
administration research that has used the FEVS to this point. We assess the extent to
which peer-reviewed studies follow the fundamental criteria of conducting empirical
studies using survey data—from accepted guidelines and practices for preinferential
evaluations of survey data to the reporting of baseline and advanced standards and
practices of analytical methods for measurement and quantitative analysis. Our
review provides an overarching appraisement of public management scholarship
employing the FEVS, which can strengthen the partnership between OPM and public
administration scholars as they jointly continue improving the survey instrument and
pursue questions critical to effective governance.
employee attitudes, behavior, motivation, methodological issues, Federal Employee
Viewpoint Survey, Federal Human Capital Survey, Office of Personnel Management,
survey research, secondary data, federal government HRM, human capital
1University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
2Pennsylvania State University, State College, USA
3Indiana University Bloomington, USA
Corresponding Author:
William Resh, University of Southern California, 650 Childs Way, Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall,
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626, USA.
865012ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19865012Review of Public Personnel AdministrationResh et al.
Resh et al. 133
In 2015, Fernandez, Resh, Moldogaziev, and Oberfield (2015) leveled an assess-
ment of the utility and promise of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM)
Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS)—a collection of attitudinal and per-
ceptual data from hundreds of thousands of federal employees, largely representa-
tive of the federal workforce, within and across agencies and programs. Their review
found dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and other publications that
examine a variety of issues central to public administration. Despite the proliferation
of published work based on FEVS data over the past decade or so, the field of public
administration to date had lacked a comprehensive assessment of the scholarly use,
value, and practices emerging from these surveys. Fernandez et al. (2015) provided
a thorough examination of the survey, its relative utility to research, and made rec-
ommendations that led to substantive changes in the survey (Personnel Management
in Agencies, 2016); however, we still lack a systematic assessment of how public
administration scholars have used the survey data in their research. The solitary
exception is a study by Somers (2018), who has offered an assessment of the psy-
chometric properties and qualities of the FEVS, albeit only in select studies that
have built constructs using items from FEVS data.
In this article, we take stock of peer-reviewed publications and the research ques-
tions scholars have explored using FEVS data—we consider the practices of current
survey data use, evaluate the practices related to methods and modeling, and identify
an array of best practices and guidance to public administration scholars. By doing
so, the article explores the prospects for improving the presentation and academic
value in the use of FEVS data or, for that matter, the secondary use of any survey
We identify the best criteria for future use of the survey and for proper selection
of reporting practices and analytical tools—from preinferential assessment of the
survey attributes, selection of valid and reliable items and measures of constructs
claimed from the FEVS data, establishment of more rigorous tests of causality, data
aggregation practices utilized in longitudinal studies (agency- and subagency-level
analyses), to data mergers from other sources to mitigate potential common source
or method biases. Such criteria will be of great value for current and future scholars
who use survey data (FEVS and others), reviewers and readers evaluating scholarly
submissions, as well as practitioners seeking to apply the empirical findings from
academic research to public sector organizations. Therefore, our article turns the
lens from FEVS survey quality concerns in Fernandez et al. (2015) to the quality of
scholarly work that utilizes FEVS. At the same time, our article is broader in its
scope than Somers’ (2018), in that construct measurement quality, while extremely
important, is only one of the many considerations in this study. The three articles,
however, are complementary and we encourage both public administration scholars
and practitioners to consider them concurrently when employing the FEVS data in
future research and to consider best practices overall in relation to survey research
in public administration.

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