Putting the success in succession

If your senior information technology executives leave for another job or

retirement, do you know who will take their place?

Despite today's competitive job market and the daunting news that thousands

of senior managers could retire from government in the next few years, most

agencies still do not have a formal, comprehensive succession plan in place.

A recent survey of the Senior Executive Service showed that about 73

percent of career employees and 60 percent of noncareer employees said that

their agencies had no formal succession planning program for managers. In

the same survey, about 53 percent of career employees and 44 percent of

noncareer employees said that their agencies had no formal SES succession

plan.

"We ought to be concerned about this, given the large number of those eligible

to retire in the not too distant future," said Carol Bonosaro, president

of the Senior Executives Association, which sponsored the survey in cooperation

with the Office of Personnel Management.

In fact, a General Accounting Office report released last month said

that retirement trends in government underscore the importance of succession

planning. GAO found that of the 6,000 career SES members employed in September

1998, about 71 percent of them will be eligible to retire at the end of

fiscal 2005.

The SES retirements could be significant because they "will result in

a loss in leadership continuity, institutional knowledge and expertise among

the SES corps," the GAO report said. Succession planning will help agencies

ensure that they have prepared and qualified people ready to fill those

senior positions, it said.

GAO last year issued a checklist to help agencies address work force

issues such as succession planning. "It's an issue that has continually

come up: that agencies do not have well-developed work force plans," said

Michael Brostek, associate director of federal management and work force

issues at GAO's general government division. "I think agencies are turning

their attention to that because the work force is aging."

In its response to the report, OPM agreed that agencies should focus

more on executive succession planning, but it also indicated that progress

has been made. It said 16 agencies and departments have SES Candidate Development

Programs that address part of the succession planning process, including

assessing candidates' developmental needs and identifying recruitment sources.

OPM also is developing a work force planning model and computer system that

will help agencies fill executive job openings.

The news may not be all bad. "The only case I can see where agencies

don't have to worry is because of the downsizing that's occurred in the

SES," Bonosaro said. "The feeling is there will be plenty of folks who are

ready to apply for and be considered for positions in SES."

In some cases, however, the downsizing has meant that fewer middle

managers are getting the executive experience they need to move up the ladder.

In at least one agency, some executives are taking different assignments

for a few months so that those in the middle ranks can get some executive

experience, Bonosaro said.

"That's the other side of the coin," she said. "It would behoove agencies

to do succession planning lest they find themselves in a situation where

you have [senior executives] who are ready but perhaps" not able to take

over, she said. Agencies "ought to be anticipating: "What kind of talent

do I have coming up the pipeline?'"

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