Interesting SES Factoids

There have been many studies, assessments and characterizations of the federal Senior Executive Service (SES) workforce over the years. For a group that is such a relatively small cadre of the entire federal workforce (SES appointees comprise less than one half of one percent of all federal workers), senior executives are required to skillfully leverage their leadership capabilities to manage large numbers of personnel and programs across the government – and typically with pretty amazing results we might add! Every once in a while it is interesting to look at who these leaders are in terms of their demographics, education levels, gender, locations, job types, spans of control and other noteworthy "factoids." SEA keeps track of this type of information because it is important to understand the trends and dynamics at play for this most important senior management corps. With that in mind, let's do a little exploring.

How many and what type? At any one time between 7,500 and 8,000 employees occupy SES positions across the U.S. government. Career SES employees comprise approximately 90% of the government's SES workforce (with non-career SES employees comprising 8.5% and limited appointees comprising 1.5%). Based on Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data as of September 2012, approximately 67% of SES employees are men and 33% are women. The average age of a career SES employee is 54 years and the average SES has 22 years of federal service (counting his or her service in the SES). The average time that current career SES executives have served in their positions is just over 6 years. Almost 70% of SES have an advanced college degree

To what extent do they come and go? Usually, between 400 and 600 career SES jobs are filled each year, with most jobs filled from within the ranks of the federal government and some from outside. Turnover in career SES positions ran just over 8% in 2012 – up substantially (about 40%) from 2009 when turnover was just under 6%. Major reasons for SES executives leaving their positions are either to retire or accept employment in the private sector. Looking ahead, nearly two-thirds of current career SES executives will be eligible to retire within the next five years.

What are they dealing with? Based on a 2011 survey of Senior Executives administered by OPM, nearly one third of senior executives oversee more than 200 employees. On average Senior Executives oversee 50‐200 employees, but the span of control is generally wider at larger agencies. Senior Executives also have major budgetary responsibility. Only 20 percent of SES responding to the 2011 survey oversaw budgets under $1 million (or didn't have budgetary responsibility). Most Senior Executives oversee budgets that range from $1 million to over $500 million. In addition to budgetary and general management challenges, SES managers also must deal with workplace disputes and employee problems as they arise. In this regard, an SEA survey revealed that 56% of career executives report they have been the subject of an employee complaint or grievance, while 27% have been made the subject of an agency Inspector General investigation (in some cases such investigations of wrong-doing can be triggered by anonymous allegations).

Where are they located and what do they do? According to OPM data, federal agencies with the largest number of SES employees include the Department of Defense with 1,243, Department of Justice with 749, Department of Homeland Security with 614, Department of the Treasury with 493, Department of Energy with 471, and the Department of Health and Human Services with 460. About three quarters (76%) of SES employees work in Washington, DC and the surrounding area (including Maryland and Virginia) and the other quarter are located in regional and field offices across the U.S., mostly in or near large cities such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. In terms of occupational areas, SES are employed in the following types of positions/fields: General Managerial and Administrative 41%; Scientific and Engineering 22%; Legal 13%, Financial 5%; Medical 5% and 13% in all other occupational areas.

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