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Leading Change in Turbulent Times

2018 Executive Forum

FEI 50th Anniversary
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The Federal Executive Institute is celebrating 50 years of service and leadership training. Below are a few pieces in a series from FEI that takes a look back at key moments in FEI history.


FEI History Snippets #1: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Speech at Princeton University’s Commission of the Woodrow Wilson Building on May 11, 1966

FEI History Snippets #2: On May 17, 1968, John Macy, Chairman of the Civil Service Commission issued this memorandum announcing the establishment of the Federal Executive Institute.

FEI History Snippets #3: Tomorrow’s Challenge Today: The FEI’s Second Decade

FEI History Snippets #4: Perspective on the Federal Executive Institute

FEI History Snippets #5: Rebuilding a ‘Flagship’ for Executives

FEI History Snippets #6: FEI at Twenty: a Personal Retrospect


FEI History Snippets #1: President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Speech at Princeton University’s Commission of the Woodrow Wilson Building on May 11, 1966

The Federal government experienced a rapid expansion as a result of the New Deal and World War II. By the 1950s, many in government began calling for a training program for the people who would lead this expanded federal workforce. The Government Employees Training Act of 1958 gave the President the authority to establish an academy to train these “civilian generals.” His speech [excerpted below] at Princeton University on May 11, 1966 officially began the process of creating the Federal Executive Institute.

There was once a time when knowledge seemed less essential to the process of government. Andrew Jackson held the opinion that the duties of all public offices were “so plain and simple” that any man of average intelligence could perform them. We are no longer so optimistic about our public service. The public servant today moves along the paths of adventure where he is helpless without the tools of advanced learning. He seeks to chart the exploration of space, combining a thousand disciplines in an effort whose slightest miscalculation could have fatal consequences. He has embarked on this planet on missions that are no less filled with risk and no less dependent on knowledge. He seeks to rebuild our cities and to reclaim the beauty of our countryside. He seeks to promote justice beyond our courtrooms, making education and health and opportunity the common birthright for every citizen. And he seeks to build peace based on man’s hopes rather than on man’s fears. These goals will be the work of many men and of many years. We are still wrestling to provide a world safe for democracy just as Wilson did more than 50 years ago. We are still fighting to gain the freedoms that Roosevelt talked about more than 30 years ago. All of these will call for enormous new drafts of trained manpower that will be available for public service.

I have asked Chairman John Macy of the Civil Service Commission to head a task force that will survey Federal programs for career advancement. I have asked him to study an expanded program of graduate training which, with the help of universities, can enlarge our efforts to develop the talents and broaden the horizons of our public service career officers.




FEI History Snippets #2: On May 17, 1968, John Macy, Chairman of the Civil Service Commission issued this memorandum announcing the establishment of the Federal Executive Institute.


Subject: Federal Executive Institute

In his memorandum of May 9, President Johnson announced the establishment of the Federal Executive Institute as an advanced study center for upper echelon executives. I want to move rapidly to carry out the plan for the Institute as described in the President’s announcement. In so doing, I look forward to working with you to assure its successful operation.

It would assist the Commission in the development of the Institute’s program if you would designate an official in your organization with whom there can be discussion on the selection criteria and procedure for attendance, curriculum plans and funding.

I have designated James R. Beck, Jr. to act as project coordinator.



FEI History Snippets #3: Tomorrow’s Challenge Today: The FEI’s Second Decade

In summer 1979, Alan K. Campbell, Director of the Office of Personnel Management, wrote an article in The Bureaucrat applauding FEI’s performance over the previous decade. He addressed the important role FEI played as one of few opportunities for those in the Senior Executive Service to continue their professional development. He also highlighted FEI’s mission teaching executives about the importance of people, as well as processes or equipment, in their organizations.

“Those who come here are the leaders who link the elected and appointed policy makers with the rest of the civil service system. This link is essential to an effective operation of the federal government.”

“The fact is, although executives make up less than one half of one percent of the federal civilian work force, they make or break the effectiveness of the other two million employees.”

“Aspirants to the executive ranks have found few opportunities to prepare for higher responsibilities.”

“What must be done is to develop a system that can deal with the total work force, in a way that will cause pride and belief in the work they are doing, and permeate the entire system.”

“Of course, it is the Federal Executive Institute which has a particular responsibility in that area. We see it coming to play in the next decade a much bigger role, a much stronger role, a role in planning for career development throughout the system. They will associate themselves with other training institutions-public and private, federal and non-federal- to develop the kind of program which will have relevance to the total executive needs of the federal government.

I believe we must begin to move in a direction where personnel management is seen as the heart of the total management system. Personnel people who see their role as that of enforcing procedural rituals should begin looking elsewhere for employment, because that is not what the new system is all about.

Indeed, the FEI will have to play an expanded part in fostering the teamwork, without which none of us can succeed. I think the first 10 years of the history of this institution indicates it clearly has the ability, the skill, and the commitment necessary to do that. I very much look forward to a close continuing association.”




FEI History Snippets #4: Perspective on the Federal Executive Institute


In the summer of 1979, Thomas P. Murphy and Chong M. Pak wrote an article in The Bureaucrat, giving their perspective on the FEI, where both had worked for a number of years. They explained the curriculum at FEI and what made this institution so unique. They then talked about the future of FEI and the challenges and opportunities it faced going into its second decade.

“The faculty and staff at the FEI over the past ten years have identified a clear set of executive development and adult educational goals and have pursued them rigorously. The institute programs are designed to do the following:

  • Promote active appreciation of the values of American constitutional democracy, such as the rule of law and the pursuit of human dignity
  • Foster understanding of, and dedication to, the responsibilities of public servants in a pluralistic and dynamic society
  • Develop and increase the executive’s ability to provide leadership, to process information, and to interact with others in creative decision making and administration
  • Facilitate the acquisition of knowledge relevant to the executive’s political, social, and economic environments- for example, knowledge of self, of interpersonal, group, and societal behavior, and of institutions and organizations (domestic and foreign).

In pursuit of these general goals, the FEI has outlined three specific areas of study which are essential to the promotion of overall executive effectiveness:

  • Interpersonal and Personal Executive Effectiveness
  • Management Systems and Processes
  • The Environment of Federal Executive Performance”

“However, whichever FEI program might be selected for an individual executive at a specific time, and whatever courses and workshops are taken, all participating executives work toward commonly recognized personal development objectives: improved understanding of executive roles, strengthened individual capabilities, increased knowledge of management systems, and an indepth understanding of national needs and priorities.”

“The FEI has no single, prescribed curriculum for everyone to follow. Instead, the approach is based on the belief that executive development is essentially self-development in which the individual involved must assume major responsibility for his/her own development.”

“But above all, the FEI is a dynamic institution. Throughout its existence, it has reorganized and restructured its existing programs and course offerings as a result of executive evaluations and faculty review in order to meet the ever-changing needs of its clientele.”

“Fiscal Year 1979 represents a year of special change for the FEI. During the year, the Federal Executive Institute will assess its accomplishments and plan new goals to be achieved in its second decade.”

“Fiscal Year 1979 is a year to review the successes of the past ten years in order to plan new innovative directions for the coming decade. These new horizons will include, first among other things, intensive efforts to promote even greater diversity among the executives who attend FEI programs.”


FEI History Snippets #5: Rebuilding a ‘Flagship’ for Executives


The excerpts below are taken from an article written by Judith Havemann, a Washington Post staff writer and originally published in that newspaper on October 12, 1987. In the article, she praises the work of Dr. Michael G. Hansen, who was then Director of the Federal Executive Institute. She highlights his commitment to high standards and his belief that executive training should be difficult.


”If this story were a college course taught by Dr. Michael G. Hansen, the political scientist who is the new director of the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, he might begin by challenging his students to analyze what these officials have in common: senior adviser for gold policy; chief of the U.S. national central bureau of INTERPOL; director of toroidal (doughnut-shaped) confinement systems for the Energy Department; chief of the Forest Service; commissioner of the Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation Commission; director of Food for Peace…One answer to these broader questions is the Federal Executive Institute in Virginia, the government’s residential training program for senior civil servants. It is, according to Constance Horner, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) director, “the sole institution available to give the SE a strong sense of itself and its place in the U.S. government.”

“In its early years, it was on the leading edge of executive development, according to James Colvard, OPM deputy director.”

“’Mike was real supportive,’ she said. ‘He was warm and friendly and at the same time really strict. He did not like it if anybody came in late, and he had a low threshold for not meeting deadlines and a low tolerance for anything that wasn’t the best.”

“’You want this degree to mean something?’ White recalled Hansen saying when the students moaned about the reading and papers required.”

“’I think executive development should be demanding,’ Hansen said, adding that, at the same time, “executive training must convey to participants that the government for which they work values them and that what they do is important.’”

FEI History Snippets #6: FEI at Twenty: a Personal Retrospect


Donald Nuechterlein was a founding member of the FEI faculty in 1968 and remained there until 1988. That spring, he wrote an article in The Bureaucrat to commemorate FEI’s upcoming 20th anniversary. In the article, he described the first class which included aspects of the program that still exist today. He also talked about what makes FEI unique among public and private executive training institutions.

The First Class

“The first session of the Federal Executive Institute opened on Sunday, October 13, 1968, with a ceremony on the back lawn. In attendance were CSC Chairman John Macy, University of Virginia President Edgar Shannon, former CSC Chairman Roger Jones, members and senior staff from the Civil Service Commission, and an assemblage of UVA deans and professors. Fifty-three federal executives, all but two being at supergrade level, greatly assisted in creating what has become one of the most innovative executive development programs in the United States. That first class understood that we were experimenting in a new field, and the interaction among faculty, staff, and federal executives was superb.”

“The theme of FEI’s program in the early days was the title of John Gardener’s then-recent book, Self Renewal. Sherwood and Macy believed that senior government executives needed encouragement to be away from their offices for a significant period of time in order to look seriously at themselves and their careers and to consider what changes they needed to make for the future. Gardener’s idea set the agenda for the FEI program, and during the first few years his book was mailed to participants in advance to help them understand our philosophy.”

“The FEI milieu was not only informal, it was casual. From the first, participants dressed casually and wore simple name tags showing only a name and government agency-no title, rank, or degrees. The California group believed in sensitivity training, then in vogue, and FEI offered it as an optional course during the first year. Small groups were also in vogue, and we therefore divided a class into seven and sometimes eight executive learning teams (ELTs) with no two persons from the same agency. (Since 1985 they have been called search teams.)”

“Another feature of the course that began in Session 1 was the “executive forum” in which members of the class took the first hour in the morning to relate to the class what their jobs entailed and how they managed in their organizations. Occasionally an exec would talk about an interesting hobby, or a debate on some major topic would be held. In those early, days, the Vietnam war was a consuming topic.”

Why FEI is ‘Special’

“First, FEI is the only training institution in the United States where senior government officials can be among a group of their peers in a residential setting for a significant span of time.”

“Second, FEI’s approach to executive development assumes that most participants know more than the faculty does about individual development needs.”

“Although this third factor can be exaggerated, there is little doubt that FEI’s location and facility have contributed much to the warm feelings most graduates have about their experience.”


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