SEA Provides Comments to OPM and OMB on the Administration’s Draft Executive Order on Strengthening the SES
On November 27, the Senior Executives Association (SEA) sent a letter and detailed comments to the heads of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding a draft Executive Order (E.O.) on SES Reform that has been circulated for agency comment, titled “Strengthening the Senior Executive Service.”
As a key stakeholder, SEA expressed its disappointment in not being given an opportunity by the Administration to review and comment on specific provisions in the E.O. (SEA obtained a copy of the draft E.O. from non-Administration sources). SEA used the letter and attached detailed comments to discuss the specific provisions that SEA supports, disagrees with, and added SEA’s additional recommendations for strengthening the SES beyond the provisions included in the draft E.O.
SEA Interim President Tim Dirks said in the letter that “Notwithstanding SEA’s support for most provisions in the E.O., we believe there are serious shortcomings, imbalances and omissions in the nature and range of reforms and associated guidance in the document that, if left unaddressed, will sub-optimize its impact and ultimately undermine its success.”
He continued, saying that “In SEA’s view, strengthening the SES requires, at a fundamental level, making it truly attractive and motivating to potential candidates and current employees,” stressing that, “The current situation involving increased turnover rates, loss of important talent and institutional capability, a ‘gotcha’ accountability culture, and the growing reluctance of high quality GS-15s to apply for SES jobs, evidence a serious erosion of the attractiveness of the SES system.”
In releasing the letter, Dirks further commented, “the Executive Order, while promising in some respects, will do little to help agencies recruit and retain high quality senior executives. It needs to be strengthened to include the full spectrum of meaningful investments in senior executives, including significant increases in pay for performance and other forms of formal recognition for the many SES employees who demonstrate excellence in carrying out their jobs. Given the current imbalance of risks vs. rewards of serving in these demanding jobs, the limited range of measures in the E.O., unless bolstered, will prove to be too little, too late and fall short of achieving true reform.”
Dirks also noted, “our recommendations are constructive and well-informed based upon real expertise and an understanding of actual SES management issues and needs – and are also informed by several recent studies and surveys of career senior executives.”
SEA stated in the letter that nothing in the E.O. addresses funding to support the many new requirements to establish succession, rotation, development, and other programs. It recommended that the E.O., or its accompanying issuing guidance, needs to address Administration and agency prioritization of funding for the reforms.
A summary of SEA’s key recommendations for strengthening the SES beyond those included in the draft E.O. include:
• Use the E.O. to lift the Administration’s long-standing, harmful cap on funding of performance awards for SES and SP employees which has largely negated the pay-for-performance system.
• Use the E.O. to strongly encourage agencies to make greater use of existing awards authorities (e.g., special act and achievement awards, honorary and other non-monetary awards, Presidential Rank Awards) to publically and meaningfully recognize the many noteworthy achievements of senior executives.
• SEA supports reforms that allow resume-only applications at the initial application stage, but strongly favors retention of Executive Core Qualification (ECQ) narratives later in the application process to ensure hiring SES with necessary managerial skills. Also, narratives on technical skills are particularly useful in assessing applicants’ expertise for non-generalist SES jobs.
• Any changes to the QRB process, as anticipated by the E.O., must preserve merit hiring and be accomplished within current statutory authorities.
• Include a provision in the E.O. to ensure that those who are hired into the SES receive a meaningful pay adjustment.
• Ensure that the pay of SES employees is greater than the pay of those who work for them – the E.O., as written, is too weak and equivocal to bring this about in the near term.
The Senior Executives Association (SEA) is a professional association representing Senior Executive Service members and other career federal executives. Founded in 1980, SEA’s goals are: to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the federal government; to advance the professionalism and advocate the interests of career federal executives; and to enhance public recognition of their contributions. The SEA Professional Development League (PDL) is a nonprofit educational organization committed to advancing the professionalism of career federal executives through the sponsorship of training, recognition, and research activities.