Is 85 percent of SES really above average?

GAO report questions agencies' approach to executive performance reviews.

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The Office of Personnel Management needs to do more to make sure agencies are using Senior Executive Service performance reviews and ratings correctly, a new Government Accountability Office report says.

The SES review system was developed in 2012, with the aim of providing a more uniform framework for performance evaluations for executive branch SES members. Yet when GAO studied how agencies are factoring organizational and individual performance into fiscal 2013 SES performance awards, what the auditors mainly found were uniformly high scores.

More than 85 percent of career SES employees were rated in the top two of five categories for fiscal 2010 through 2013. Less than one-half of one percent were rated in the bottom two tiers.

Such positive reviews boost more than just self-esteem; in fiscal 2013 career SES employees received roughly $42 million in bonuses that were pegged to their performance ratings.

GAO recommended that OPM take a closer look at the SES system to make sure the guidelines are resulting in meaningful and accurate performance reviews. GAO also maintains that "additional action should be considered to ensure equity in ratings and performance awards across departments."

OPM plans to convene a cross-agency working group in 2015 to revisit the SES certification process. While OPM officials took issue with some of GAO's specific recommendations, they promised the working group would factor the report into its discussions.

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