Many hopes on hold for executive training

OPM Senior Executive Service Federal Candidate Development Program

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A nationwide program that prepares candidates for the highest paid jobs in the federal government is not accepting any more applications for now. Overwhelmed by several thousand applications for only 12 slots, officials in charge of the program had to turn away many prospective candidates.

The Office of Personnel Management, which created the Senior Executive Service (SES) Federal Candidate Development Program, accepted online applications between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8, 2004. Unlike many executive education programs that agencies run themselves, OPM's is open to all federal agencies that want to sponsor candidates. The agency accepts candidates from outside the government, too.

One of OPM's recruitment objectives for the program is to attract more SES candidates from minority groups.

Michael Orenstein, an OPM spokesman, said the agency held an orientation session last month for the program's first class of SES candidates.

The program of classroom and Web-based courses, field experiences, team projects, forums, coaching and reading groups takes 14 months to complete.

The curriculum focuses on developing skills such as business acumen, problem-solving, strategic thinking, decisiveness, political savvy and resilience.

To be eligible, candidates must already have had at least one year of leadership experience in the federal government at a GS-14 or GS-15 level or have had comparable experience in the private sector.

Agencies that sponsor a candidate are allowed to create a temporary SES position to which that person can be promoted at the end of the 14-month program.

Unlike the new program, most other OPM employee development programs lack "an actual, targeted position that one is attempting to ascend to," said Judith Douglas, vice president of leadership and performance at the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that supports public service.

Governmentwide training programs such as OPM's eliminate costly duplication and often are more effective than individual agency programs, congressional auditors wrote in a recent Government Accountability Office report on succession planning. They urged agencies to use OPM's program or participate with other agencies in coordinated training efforts to reduce government costs.

Many agencies, however, prefer to create their own senior-level training programs because officials think "the organization's mission and needs are clearest inside the organization," Douglas said.

Whether agencies create their own or use cross-agency programs such as OPM's, succession planning is becoming mission-critical, Douglas said. "We're effectively creating the public service of tomorrow."

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