OPM: Calling all SES hopefuls

Agency seeks to expand feds’ enrollment in executive leadership training program

EPA addresses employee succession at all levels

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency like to say they prepare employees for leadership from the time they walk in the door until the day they retire.

Through a series of internship programs and midlevel leadership initiatives, EPA officials try to give all employees opportunities
to develop skills that will let them advance through the ranks, said Luis Luna, EPA’s
chief human capital officer and assistant administrator of administration and resources management.

EPA recruits potential employees through an intern program in which they hire workers for two years and rotate them four or five times within the agency to give them a variety of experiences.

The agency also has a management training program for General Schedule 13 to 15 employees and a Senior Executive Service rotation program. “Every six years, we ask SESers to try different things,” Luna said. “We talk to them and make matches with other EPA offices so they get a variety of experiences.”

Luna said EPA also encourages the use of classroom training and shorter rotational assignments for mid-tier employees.

— Jason Miller

Editor's note:This story was updated at 12:12 9.m. Oct. 2. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.


The Environmental Protection Agency’s Luis Luna used a baseball analogy to describe the challenge facing the Senior Executive Service (SES) governmentwide. “We want to have bench depth as people retire so we have others ready to move in.”

Luna, EPA’s chief human capital officer and assistant administrator of administration and resources management, said the federal government lacks that bench depth. With 90 percent of its senior managers becoming eligible to retire in the next nine years, the government must do something, he said.

One step the government has taken is to update its newest executive leadership training program. The Office of Personnel Management, with assistance from the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, is trying to address SES succession planning through its updated candidate development program. The program’s second session begins this fall.

“We are trying to broaden the pools of executives from different skill groups,” said Bob Danbeck, senior adviser to OPM Director Linda Springer.

OPM introduced the SES development program in 2005. “We took the idea to the CHCO Council, and they thought it was a good one. The goal is make sure we are ahead of the curve and have qualified people for those positions.”

The yearlong program, which had 12 graduates in 2006, offers executive training sessions at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, Va., and rotational assignments within students’ own agencies, Danbeck said.

“At end of the program, OPM will qualify them as SES-ready,” Danbeck said. “The idea [of the program] is for executive managers to understand how government works and what is expected of them, including how to run an organization, mentor employees and face the myriad of challenges every manager faces.”

Many agencies run their own SES training programs, Danbeck said, but the purpose of the OPM/CHCO Council initiative is to ensure that executive training is always available to SES hopefuls.

For example, EPA enrolled 51 employees through its own SES training program in 2002, but it hasn’t run a program since, Luna said.
“Asking OPM to run the program makes sense, and it is more cost-effective,” Luna said. “We like the notion of regularity and predictability because we can make sure those who want to take the training have all the prerequisite classes already done before the SES program starts.”

Tom Fox, director of the Annenberg Leadership Institute at the Partnership for Public Service, said agencies began developing their own courses 15 to 20 years ago, when most officials thought that was the best approach. But a governmentwide SES training program will improve government as a whole, Fox said.

“It will address the growing leadership gap and improve collaboration,” Fox said. “It creates a mind-set of collaboration for the next generation of SESers.”

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said OPM’s program will especially benefit small agencies that don’t have the resources to develop their own executive development programs. But she said executive training is only part of the answer.

“We need to keep SES positions sufficiently attractive,” Bonosaro said. “With what is happening with SES pay for performance, a lot of GS-14 and -15s, who should be looking to move up, are saying they will not get locality pay. It is not clear if they will get pay adjustments, so they are not excited about moving up.”

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