Amid reorg, agency leaders push for SES reforms

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As the Trump administration focuses on downsizing the workforce and restructuring government, agency leaders want to ensure there's a healthy pipeline for the current and future senior executive service to carry out its mission.

"For the Trump administration to implement the agency reform plans in any meaningful way, they're going to have to trust the career senior leadership in their departments to help them," said Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, at a Sept. 21 event hosted by Government Executive. "It can't work any other way."

To ensure the effectiveness of senior leadership, Valdez said government needs to institute reforms aimed at how government goes about recruiting and incentivizing the SES.

Especially in the areas of succession planning and leadership development, "that's where we see the federal government falling short," he said.

Karl Schneider, the Army's deputy chief management officer, said his "number one" reform priority was to make it easier to hire senior executives.

Specifically, Schneider proposed reform that would "make it easier for us to recruit from the private sector" by setting up a mutually beneficial exchange program, particularly in high-demand fields like tech and cybersecurity. He also suggested civilian agencies invest in professional recruiters, and not simply rely on postings to compete with the private sector.

Wynn Coggins, deputy chief administrative officer at the Patent and Trademark Office, rejected the notion that the federal government has a "leadership crisis," but did point out that agencies lack the proper visibility to directly address management or employee engagement shortcomings.

Valdez said one change the Office of Personnel Management could enact is to "make a distinction between career leadership and political leadership" in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

"That's a fatal flaw within the data that we see," he said.

Valdez also said he'd like to see more structured incentives for high-performing employees — through promotions, bonuses and added responsibility — and greater accountability for those not performing well.

One piece of accountability legislation, signed into law in June, authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out expedited disciplines of civil servants and SES members for poor performance or misconduct.

Valdez said SEA opposed the VA bill not because of the fast firing authority, but because "it won't work."

"The approach being taken there is not getting at the root cause of the problem we're trying to solve here," he said. "What's needed is a fundamental rethinking of the performance accountability system."

The current one, he said, instead "incentivizes tenure, and it incentivizes average performance" rather than "appropriate risk-taking."

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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