Partnering to Strengthen the SES
If there is one thing that organizations like the Senior Executives Association, the Volcker Alliance, and the Partnership for Public Service can agree upon is that we need to develop a new Agenda to strengthen the Senior Executive Service (SES).
The SES was created by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) and during the past four decades the world has fundamentally changed, but the way that this key national resource is utilized has not. This is a situation akin to having the financial sector still operating under the rules in place prior to when international banking exploded, the military still preparing for a Soviet invasion of Europe, or the Federal Communications Commission regulating the Internet using hardwire telephone monopoly rules.
What has fundamentally changed that impacts today’s SES corps? Three primary factors drove SEA, PPS and Volcker to develop the “SES Joint Policy Agenda.”
First, the process to select and onboard SES is broken. Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) are outdated, onboarding at agencies is haphazard, and the SES performance management system does not link performance to the leadership competencies required for mission success. SEA’s view is that OPM should drive these changes and fulfill the role for OPM that the CSRA originally intended: the steward of the career SES.
Second, there is no agreed upon model to improve senior-level talent management, including an absence of talent assessment models and succession planning. Currently, SES are considered to be “fully baked” leaders and provisions for continuing education and development are scarce and ill-defined. Executive Resources Boards (ERBs) must be used as a tool to cultivate and manage SES. As it is, ERBs are often an after-thought at agencies and are used primarily during the selection phase of SES but not as an overall agency steward of their SES talent pool, including aspiring leaders.
Third, the career/political divide must be closed. The CSRA envisioned the SES to be the bridge between political leadership and career civil servants. Surveys indicate, however, that career SES increasingly believe they are not empowered and do not have the resources they require to implement an Administration’s agenda. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the overall number of political appointees since 1978, particularly in what we believe should career reserved positions such as C-suite positions with responsibilities for management, not policy, which is the primary domain of political leadership.
SEA will be working with Volcker and PPS to implement this agenda through legislative and administrative initiatives. The end result, we believe, is that our Nation will benefit through increased delivery of vital products and services that improve our quality of life, economic standing, and national security.