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Presidents 2020 September Action Column

SEA’s 40th ANNIVERSARY

By Bob Corsi, Interim President

“An organization like SEA can only be destroyed by the neglect of people it represents”

From SEA’s First President, Jerry Shaw, 1980-82

            Your SEA is 40 years young this Summer!  We all need to take some time to reflect on those past 40 years and think of what would not have happened had it not been for SEA.  The vision of our founders is as relevant today as it was back in 1980.

            The Association was founded one year after the Senior Executive Service "SES" was established in 1979, following its creation in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 as part of a major restructuring of the federal service. Federal executives who were under the old system (GS-16, 17 and 18 "super-grade" employees) were not obliged to enter the SES and could stay in their super-grade positions with no adverse consequences. However, 95 percent voluntarily converted into the SES because of their active recruitment by the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission and OPM, as well as by the promise of higher pay and bonuses to at least 50 percent of the SES.

            The Act promised a pay raise after years of pay compression, six different pay and work levels of the SES (I-VI), and increasing pay when one went up the levels.  And best of all were the promises of performance bonuses and Presidential Rank awards which promised awards to some SESs each year of 25% for Meritorious Awards, and 40% for Distinguished Awards, as well as incentive awards up to 30% would be paid out to at least 50% of all SESers each year.    All who joined the SES had to do so by June 30, 1979. Bonuses were to be paid out after the first year of the program, which ended July 1, 1980.  However, following the bonus pay-outs, a member of Congress took the floor, and denounced the lavish payments to bureaucrats. Subsequently, a law was passed the following year reversing most of those gains and put significantly lower limits on both the number of bonuses that could be granted by any agency, and the size of the payouts.  At the same time, ES-3, 4, 5, and 6 were all earning the same base pay at the time.

            Consequently, many SESers felt frustrated, angry, and betrayed. The IRS District Director in Baltimore, met with six other SESers, later to be known as the founding seven of SEA. The group eventually met with the Chairman of the Civil Service Commission to discuss the Administration's future goals to repair their broken promises which had induced executives to enter the SES.  Unfortunately, the meeting did not go as the founding seven expected. It was made clear to them that the Administration had no plan to remedy the executives' situation. The only solution the Chairman suggested was for Senior Executives to start their own organization and lobby Congress on their own behalf. That was the beginning of SEA…born because of the broken promises and betrayal by both the Administration and the Congress. 

            The founding seven began recruiting as many SESers as they could, including the Deputy Commissioner of the IRS.   One of the seven, Jerry Shaw, took a six-month leave of absence from IRS to act as full-time president of SEA and eventually resigned from IRS in order to lead the Association, which grew to 600 members within four months.  We owe a great deal to those founding seven!

            Your SEA spent its early years preparing position papers and lobbying key Congressional members who later became advocates to right the wrong that was done to the SES. We could clearly write a dissertation on SEA’s accomplishments over the past 40 years, but it is important to take some time to reflect not only on those actions that may be well known but also address those huge successes that were below everyone’s radar.  Looking back over those 40 years there was never a time where SEA was not engaged with an Administration, Congress, the public sector, and the private sector in the pursuit of good government to benefit all federal employees.  Early on, faced with the reversal of promises made just one year after the passage of  the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the new SEA aggressively worked with the Hill to re-instate the promises made to all of the new SESs who converted from the super-grades.  During those early years, SEA built the credibility and stature where regardless of political party in power their counsel was sought and proved pivotal in key decisions concerning the Federal work force 

            Over the years, SEA has had a profound impact on the entire Federal work force.  While the following summary is extensive, it still only touches on some of those major legislative successes.  For those with extensive time in the work force at the senior civilian level, many of these will clearly resonate.  For those newer to the executive-level, I would ask that you take any opportunity to share these accomplishments with executive-level members who may not be currently members of SEA.

            The following are just a sampling of the recent legislative successes that SEA has achieved:

  • Successfully Prevented STOCK Act Internet Posting Provision - On August 2, 2012, SEA joined an ACLU lawsuit as the lead plaintiff seeking an injunction to block the internet posting provision for certain financial disclosure forms.  SEA's continued work in the lawsuit and with Congress led to multiple delays in implementation of the provision until Congress ultimately voted against the provision taking effect on April 2, 2013.
  • Secured Introduction of the SES Reform Act – SEA was successful in securing support and co-sponsors for introduction of companion legislation in the 112th Congress that addresses pressure points within the SES system and offers solutions for strengthening the career senior leadership corps.
  • Secured Passage of Legislation to Credit FERS Employees for Unused Sick-Leave - SEA was instrumental in introducing the concept for this legislation to Rep. Moran (D-VA) and then working with Members of Congress to secure passage of this legislation.
  • Pushed Legislation to Allow Agencies to Reemploy Annuitants without Penalty to their Annuity - SEA worked with relevant House and Senate Committees to ensure that this legislation passed as part of the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act.
  • Protected Senior Executives in Whistleblower Reform Legislation - SEA worked closely with Senator Collins (R-ME) and the Administration to craft an acceptable compromise to ensure that jury trials were not included in the final version of the whistleblower reform legislation.

 

            SEA successfully fought to provide SL/STs with the same benefits enjoyed by members of the SES. These included:

  • Getting SL/STs the Right to be Considered for and Receive Presidential Rank Awards - Prior to 2001, SL/STs were not eligible to be considered for the Presidential Rank Awards. SEA introduced legislation to amend the law, which was passed in 2001 and went into effect in 2003. SL/STs are now eligible to be considered for the awards in the same manner as members of the SES.
  • Raising the SL/ST Leave Cap - In early 2008, the President signed into law the 2008 Defense Authorization Act. Inserted in this bill was a provision offered by SEA that lifted the SL/ST Annual Leave Cap to the same level as that for the SES. SL/STs can now accumulate up to 90 days (720 hours) of leave each year.
  • Ensuring SL/STs Receive 8 Hours of Annual Leave per Pay Period - Another provision pushed by SEA that brought SL/STs to the same level as the SES and allows SL/STs to accrue 8 hours of annual leave per bi-weekly pay period.
  • Raising the SL/ST Pay Cap - In late 2008, SEA was successful in working with Congress to pass legislation to lift the SL/ST pay cap. The pay cap for SL/STs is now at Level II for a certified agency, up from Level III of the Executive Schedule.

 

            The following past accomplishments not only highlight the actions taken to reverse those early-on Congressional actions after the SES was formed, but contain several of those actions that had a great influence on preserving consistency across the SES and providing valuable incremental changes to benefits and protections:

  • Secured passage of legislation removing the cap on the number of Senior Executives in each agency who may receive a bonus.
  • Secured passage of legislation raising the Presidential Meritorious and Distinguished Rank Awards from $10,000 and $20,000 to 20 percent and 35 percent of pay, respectively, thus restoring the awards to their original value.
  • Successfully pushed legislation that contained a provision granting 8 hours of leave per biweekly pay period for SES and certain Senior-level positions.
  • Succeeded in 2003 in ensuring that the new SES system included an increase in the pay cap for Senior Executives working in certified agencies.
  • Initiated and secured the passage of a law that dramatically increases the pool of money available for SES performance awards from 3 percent of SES payroll in each agency to 10 percent of SES payroll.
  • Ensured that DHS and DoD did not eliminate all SES structure and protection and give the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security complete authority to restructure the career SES. This was a real threat at the time DHS was created and a year later when NSPS was established.
  • When federal executive pay was set each year by the President, SEA played a key role in raising pay each year but one.
  • Secured passage of the Frequent Flyer Legislation making mileage accrued on Federal travel available for private use.
  • Supported Regulations to Continue the MSPB - The MSPB system was at risk for DHS and DoD employees. SEA took a strong position on this and the result was the issuance of DHS regulations that continue appeals to the MSPB for adverse actions and revision of NSPS legislation to keep MSPB appeals for DoD employees. 
  • Proposed and secured legislation for fall-back to GS-15 or above positions for career senior executives caught in a reduction in force.
  • Originated and secured "last-move-home" benefits for senior executives (and the spouses of deceased executives) geographically relocated within five years of their eligibility for an annuity.
  • Helped defeat a pay raise recall in 1987 and an attempted 5-percent pay reduction in 1992, and filed a brief in Humphrey v. Baker in support of the pay increase and pay-setting process for executives.
  • Developed and secured legislation that allows executives to appeal adverse actions after retiring in the face of action.
  • Developed and secured legislation allowing the Merit Systems Protection Board to mitigate overly harsh agency penalties in SES conduct appeals.
  • Secured passage of legislation limiting agency authority to detail executives during the 120 day "get acquainted" period and the issuance of the Office of Personnel Management's regulations limiting agency authority to reduce executive rank and pay.
  • Proposed and secured legislation requiring agencies to reimburse executives for up to one half the cost of their liability and legal defense insurance.
  • Designed beneficial provisions that were incorporated in Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) legislation, including the tax-deferred savings plan for both FERS and Civil Service Retirement System employees. SEA actively represents Senior Executives on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board Advisory Council.
  • Proposed and secured legislation to provide home purchase and sale assistance when being geographically reassigned.
  • Established a formal mentoring program with the Young Government Leaders organization to provide SES mentors to rising leaders. 

            As I stated earlier, the above are some of the highlights from the past 40 years.  I would ask all of us to reflect on what the situation would be today if we did not have an SEA and the dedication of our founding seven.  SEA can only thrive with the dedication of its members and the willingness of new SESs and civilian-equivalents to embrace the importance of supporting all of SEA initiatives through their membership.  The quote I used early on from SEA’s first President needs to resonate with every active SES and civilian-equivalent because it is as relevant today as it was in 1980:  “An organization like SEA can only be destroyed by the neglect of people it represents”

            As always, please contact me at bcorsi@seniorexecs.org with your suggestions or thoughts.