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Feature: The Federal Executive Institute—Past, Present, And Future
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Interview with Dr. Suzanne G. Logan, DEd; Deputy Associate Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management; Director, the Center for Leadership Development; Director, Federal Executive Institute

Following the 50th anniversary of the Federal Executive Institute (FEI) in October 2018, members of the Board of Directors of the Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association (FEIAA) asked Dr. Logan to reflect on the past, present, and future of FEI and the Center for Leadership Development. Below are her responses to our interview questions. 

Q1: FEI has been training government executives for 50 years. What are some of the attributes that have made FEI such a success?
Since its founding in 1968, FEI has consistently worked to develop visionary leaders who transform government to better serve the American people. Today, there are more than 25,000 graduates of the FEI flagship program, Leadership for a Democratic Society, as well as cognate programs FEI has offered over the years, all recognized for providing “the uniquely FEI experience.” 

Some attributes that might account for the longevity and success of FEI include the points below. In addition to my own observations, the following themes and comments consistently appear in post program evaluations and feedback from our customers:

  • FEI was originally established in 1968 as a senior staff college within the Federal Government, to serve the super grades of the civil service. Today, as part of the larger Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Center for Leadership Development, the FEI is also part of a robust continuum of interagency leadership and professional development that provides unique, innovative, enterprise-wide learning opportunities for leaders at all levels of the Federal Government—from team lead to manager to supervisor and to Federal senior executive.
  • Among the enduring FEI core values, FEI has demonstrated the ability not only to transform itself but also to provide appropriate continuity of learning across 10 presidential administrations—from President Lyndon B. Johnson through President Donald J. Trump. FEI was originally overseen by the Chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, John Macy. Since then, more than 15 OPM directors have been responsible for the Institute.
  • FEI’s flagship Leadership for a Democratic Society program has a unique curriculum that focuses on developing the individual leader, taking each individual from his or her present strengths to the next level of leadership development. 
  • FEI complements or supplements agency-level development programs and has always been uniquely situated to offer enterprise-level opportunities that bring agencies and sectors together to tackle the most complex and persistent challenges facing leaders in government.
  • FEI is a success largely because of the people who successfully complete the Leadership for a Democratic Society program. The Federal executives are often already at the top of their game and pushing themselves to stay there. Executives in our programs bring a strong commitment to deepen their understanding of who they are, the world they lead, and how they can better achieve their missions. They leave with a commitment to ongoing professional development to strengthen their effectiveness in their roles. The FEI Alumni Association, founded by early graduates of FEI, fosters and supports ongoing leadership and professional learning and development.
  • Our faculty team has a wide range of talent and experience. It is important to have a team that sets and achieves high standards in delivering executive-level development and knows what right looks like. Through partnering and research, the faculty members are able to draw from various educational sources to tap new ideas to meet the emerging needs of Federal leaders and senior executives. 
  • Finally, FEI operates on a fee-for-service basis. It is a market-financed organization within OPM’s revolving fund authority, which, among other things, authorizes OPM to finance reimbursable training courses for Federal agencies. Though operating on a fee-for-service basis has its challenges, and though there have been periodic discussions over the past 50-plus years to move all or part of FEI to appropriated fund financing, many believe that operating on a fee-for-service basis is key to FEI’s longevity and success. 

Q2: How do you see the role of Federal training evolving in the coming years?
There is no question in my mind that there is a distinct and ever more compelling role for spanning Federal training, professional development, leadership, and executive development across all age groups and levels of experience.

We know that major changes in the Federal workforce and Artificial Intelligence technology will require a strong focus in Federal training as well as changes in where and how training is delivered. Federal training must support the upskilling and reskilling required to meet evolving agency missions and the changes in the nature of work that come with advances that will shape the 21st century workplace.

This priority role for Federal training in the coming years is well recognized in the President’s Management Agenda: Modernizing Government for the 21st Century, which includes the priority to ensure “the Government has more nimble and effective approaches to keep technologies and workforce skills current and to ensure that the Federal workforce can meet future needs.” 

No single organization can hope to meet all of the leadership and professional development needs of the Federal workforce, nor should it. At the same time, there is a distinctive, inherently governmental role that FEI plays in providing executive development standards and certifying mastery in ways that advance an individual’s Federal career. 

The use of partnership strategies to bring new ideas, innovations, and methodologies to our senior executives will continue. Most important, FEI as a Federal leadership and professional development provider is fully accountable to the U.S. Government. Our sole interest is in developing leaders responsive to the administration’s priorities to better serve the American people. 

In sum: Federal training—whether government-wide or agency-specific—will play an increasingly strategic role in Federal agencies’ abilities to successfully transform, adapt, and excel in the face of exponential change. I view FEI, and the larger Center for Leadership Development, as playing a supportive and catalytic role in fostering rates of learning in the workforce to meet and exceed rates of change.

Q3: One of the key features of FEI is the intense, four-week onsite training. Is this something you will continue? Are you moving to more online training, and how is that working? 
Yes, FEI’s flagship Leadership for a Democratic Society (LDS) program will continue, and, yes, it will continue to include both face-to-face and online features. 

As you know, the LDS executive development program continues to evolve to meet the development needs of senior Federal leaders. For example, the program began in 1968 under the auspices of the then U.S. Civil Service Commission as a university-style, eight-week residential intensive originally called the Presidential Executive Program,  later changing to the Residential Executive Program. When FEI was established in 1968, it marked the first effort in the U.S. Government to serve the highest levels of the career civil service in a long-term residential venue.

Though FEI remains dedicated to the vision articulated from its inception, I have to say that change is also built into the DNA of its programs. As FEI moves further into the 21st century, it is imperative we stay ahead of advances in learning technologies. 

Today the LDS program is a four-week intensive training and executive development program. The LDS program is offered in multiple formats (e.g., four weeks consecutive, split programs that deliver the four-week experience two weeks at a time with assignments in between). The LDS residential experience now has online and face-to-face features. We have also piloted and continue to refine a blended version of LDS that starts with a two-week, face-to-face residential session followed by virtual sessions spread out over the following six months and concluding with an in-person graduation. 

In addition to looking at modes of learning delivery, we continue to experiment with new formats aligned to senior executive life cycles—including the use of simulations and gaming methods. An example is FEI’s SES Leading EDGE portfolio, which is a government-wide continuum of learning that strengthens those senior executives in the Senior Executive Service (SES) through all phases of the SES life cycle, starting with entry into the SES. SES Leading EDGE offers intensive short-course formats in Washington, DC. These include the government-wide SES enterprise onboarding program to accelerate success of new senior executives in their first two years of executive service, and the FEI SES Enterprise Leadership Labs, which are one-day hot-topic programs offered in varied formats to test and experiment with tools and methods to address 21st century challenges.

Finally, starting in 2016, FEI added a Footsteps series, designed specifically for graduates of the Leadership for a Democratic Society program. Footsteps programs consist of executive-level courses that go beyond the typical classroom experience by combining relevant leadership topics with experiential activities, so participants can walk in the footsteps of leaders who struggled mightily to lead in the past, as well as with those who are doing so today. 

FEI also offers an International Leadership Program, and custom education and training for agencies such as the US Agency for International Development.
Q4: From your viewpoint, what does the future of FEI look like? What are your goals for the organization in the coming years?
I think the future of FEI will continue to be a mix of continuity and change—continuity of mission, audience, and core values combined with change and transformation aligned to the changes underway in society and in the Federal Government.

 Today, more than 50 years after it was founded, FEI is once again in new “reorganizing” territory, and the outcomes of these initiatives are sure to shape FEI’s near- and long-term future. 

As it turns out, the reorganization initiative of the current administration dovetails with reorganizing initiatives I have been leading for some time at both the Federal Executive Institute and the larger Center for Leadership Development, of which FEI is a part. The future Center for Leadership Development will do the following:

  • Support a mission to develop visionary leaders to transform their nation’s government.
  • Provide a career-long continuum of leadership and professional development for all Federal civil servants, delivered through enterprise learning technologies, project-based learning experiences, and open enrollment courses.
  • Serve as the steward of employees’ learning experiences, organizations’ workforce performance, and agencies’ investments in learning.

Within this larger arena, which in essence forms the pipeline of leadership into the Senior Executive Service, the FEI continues with its central mission to provide leadership and professional development to Federal senior executives at the capstone of the pipeline—to develop them as visionary leaders continually transforming government to better serve the American people.

My goals for FEI in the coming years are to realize the ideal that FEI is itself a changing organization—one with the capability to recognize and cope with constantly shifting forces and new challenges while at the same time preserving yet evolving our core values. As I have described above, FEI is a fulcrum of the OPM’s Center for Leadership Development, and I envision it will continue to play that role, albeit in ever-changing environments, including the modernization initiatives of the current Administration. Stay tuned! .

The members of FEIAA’s Board of Directors extend our thanks to Dr. Logan for preparing this commentary and sharing it with us. We will all be looking for the changes that she describes. 

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