Strategies for Improving Measurement Models for Secondary Data in Public Administration Research: Illustrations from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

Published date01 March 2018
Date01 March 2018
228 Public Administration Review • March | April 2018
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, pp. 228–239. © 2017 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12805.
Strategies for Improving Measurement Models for
Secondary Data in Public Administration Research:
Illustrations from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey
Mark John Somers is professor
of management and organizational
behavior in the Martin Tuchman School
of Management, New Jersey Institute of
Technology. His research interests include
research methods, psychometrics, work
attitudes, employee socialization, and work
Abstract : This article builds on Fernandez et al.’s 2015 review of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey ( FEVS )
research by focusing on two unexplored areas: measurement models and measurement quality. Employing the notion
of an auxiliary measurement theory as an organizing framework, the author assesses the use of FEVS survey items to
operationalize theoretical constructs and procedures in order to establish their psychometric quality. Results indicate
that there is considerable variability in how FEVS items have been used to measure theoretical constructs, which is
expressed as high levels of overlap across FEVS -derived scales. Inconsistency in the assessment of measurement quality
is evident as well, with a bias toward convergent validity. Three cautionary tales are presented to demonstrate the
fragility of FEVS data when used with a compromised auxiliary measurement theory. The article concludes with
recommendations for future FEVS studies.
P ublic administration scholars have made good
use of employee surveys developed by the U.S.
Office of Personnel Management to study
important topics, including agency performance,
employee empowerment, leadership, diversity,
employee turnover, job satisfaction, and fairness. A
commonly used data source in public administration
research is the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey
(FEVS). Indeed, a fairly
extensive and growing body
of scholarly research based on
FEVS data is evident in the
public administration literature.
In a recent review, Fernandez
et al. ( 2015 ) note that while
the FEVS has been used widely
in public administration research, an evaluation of
this survey and the body of literature it has generated
had not been conducted. Fernandez and colleagues
address this gap by conducting an evaluation of
FEVS research that includes codification of primary
topic areas studied and suggestions about how the
FEVS might be improved to facilitate academic
research. Although several themes run through this
important article, one that recurs is the necessity of
establishing the validity of measures of theoretical
constructs operationalized using FEVS survey
items. The question of validity is important because
FEVS survey items were not designed to measure
the theoretical constructs that are characteristic
of academic research. Rather, because the FEVS
items were crafted as single-item measures to assess
employee perceptions (see Kraut 1996 ), measures
of theory-derived constructs must be constructed a
In discussing the weaknesses and limitations of FEVS
data, Fernandez et al. note that because the FEVS was
designed to improve organizational effectiveness by
tracking employee perceptions, “important concepts
[are] not being measured
properly or not measured at
all” (2015, 388). They go on
to note that validity is rarely
discussed in research using
FEVS data. However, these
concerns are not addressed
in detail because the broad
scope of their review precludes
a more thorough analysis of measurement issues in
FEVS research. Thus, the implications of the limited
attention to measurement quality in FEVS research
remain an important but mostly unexplored area.
The present article addresses this gap in the literature.
Using the notion of an auxiliary measurement theory
(Blalock 1982 ), the development and validation of
measurement models in FEVS research were assessed.
In so doing, an analysis of the implications of slippage
between conceptual and operational variables for
findings from FEVS studies was conducted both as a
means of improving FEVS research and developing
higher-quality measurement models in public
administration research in general. Emphasis was
placed on how constructs were defined and the degree
Mark John Somers
New Jersey Institute of Technology
e implications of the limited
attention to measurement qual-
ity in FEVS research remain an
important but mostly unex-
plored area.

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