Workforce

OPM freezes SES hiring

stylized professionals

The Office of Personnel Management has imposed a hiring freeze on the Senior Executive Service that will apply to agencies whose heads are non-termed political appointees. The freeze is effective Dec. 7 and lasts until Inauguration Day.

In a governmentwide memo, Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said OPM will suspend the processing of SES Qualifications Review Board cases when agency heads announce their departure.

Dec. 7 is the deadline set by President Barack Obama for all non-termed presidential appointees to submit letters of resignation. The SES serves as the personnel bridge between political appointees and the civil service. The board, made up of three SES members, reviews all senior executive hires to make sure they are qualified.

OPM press secretary Sam Schumach confirmed to FCW that the moratorium only applies to SES positions that have not yet been approved by the board and added that OPM will continue to process cases submitted before the moratorium sets in.

Such a moratorium is an established practice during presidential transition in order to afford the president-elect "with maximum flexibility to assemble the new leaders of an incoming administration," Schumach said.

During the Obama transition, President George W. Bush requested all non-termed presidential appointees’ resignations by Dec. 1, 2008, and the moratorium went into effect Dec. 19.

A moratorium also allows the incoming agency head the chance to "exercise his or her prerogative to make or approve executive resource decisions that will impact the agency’s performance during his or her tenure," Schumach said.

OPM will consider exemptions to the latest moratorium on a case-by-case basis "to balance the need to preserve the prerogatives of an incoming agency head with the need to ensure the continuity of agency operations during periods of transition," Schumach said. "Such requests must specifically address the potential for adverse impact on national and/or homeland security or a critical agency mission, program or function that will result if a particular SES candidate is not certified immediately."

Some lawmakers have expressed concern that as the Obama administration winds down, some political appointees will shift to career positions at agencies, including SES positions.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, requested that OPM notify the committee of federal employees who make the jump from political appointment to career posting, a practice referred to as "burrowing in."

"It is imperative that we ensure our federal civilian workforce is merit-based and independent," Johnson wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to Cobert. He asked for detailed information on such conversions by Dec. 1, to be followed by weekly updates from OPM.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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