Senators take close look at SES

OPM's Nancy Kichak says funds are limited for executive pay

Senators heard today about efforts to fix problems with the Senior Executive Service, which include recruiting and a slow hiring process.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia Subcommittee held a hearing about SES, which has more than 7,000 members.

"The SES is essential to driving management priorities and promoting efficiency within agencies and across the government,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the subcommittee. “Although the SES is critically important to efficient and effective government, it has been a number of years since Congress took a comprehensive, governmentwide look at the Senior Executive Service.”


Related story:

Pay raises revoked for some SES members


Nancy Kichak, associate director of employee services at the Office of Personnel Management, said the President’s Management Council launched a program last year to improve SES. The initiative, led by OPM and the Office of Management and Budget, has resulted in several recommendations pertaining to engagement, recruitment, career development and employee performance management for senior leaders, she added.

A memo OMB released in February summarized the initiative’s focus areas and outlined how the recommendations would be implemented. Recruitment is seen as one of the project’s most pressing issues because more than half of the current SES members are eligible to retire.

However, Kichak said in her testimony that such advancements can only go so far in the face of the government’s ongoing budget crunch.

“At a time when we truly need the best and brightest in our executive corps — and when senior managers are expected to achieve even greater results with limited resources — the funds available for executive pay, awards, training and professional development are severely limited,” she said. “Not only is this true of funds for senior executives’ own compensation and development, but funds are also limited for training, developing, and rewarding employees they manage and for training and developing their successors.”

Akaka noted that in 2004, Congress enacted reforms that created a pay-for-performance system for SES members, raised the cap on SES pay and eliminated locality pay for those employees.

Kichak said that in the near future, OPM’s top three SES-related priorities are to recruit a diverse pool of candidates, improve the hiring process, and support new executives through training and orientation.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, stressed the importance of mobility, saying that SES members should move between agencies and across sectors. In addition, he proposed a 10 percent cap on the number of noncareer SES members at each agency instead of the existing cross-government policy, the creation of an online community to facilitate SES communication, and a requirement that agencies conduct exit interviews of all SES members who retire or otherwise leave their positions.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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