White House raises caps on performance bonuses for senior feds

Senior Executive Service members and other senior feds could see larger performance bonuses, thanks to a shift in personnel policy.

Shutterstock image (by Julia Tim): businessman receiving a bag of money.

Senior Executive Service members and other senior feds could see larger performance bonuses, thanks to a shift in personnel policy.

The move, announced in an Aug. 12 memo, raises the cap on performance awards to 7.5 percent of salary for members of the SES and federal employees classified as senior level or scientific -- up from 4.8 percent. The memo from Beth Cobert, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan makes good on a December 2015 pledge to raise bonus caps.

The Obama administration wants agencies to grant awards in a way that rewards top performers. Therefore, it is advising them to provide "substantial" bonuses to the best SES employees and allowing more variance in award amounts among the rating levels.

Agencies may also spend up to 1 percent on individual contribution awards, or special act awards, throughout the fiscal year.

"Agencies are encouraged to use these awards to recognize those senior leaders who take on the most challenging assignments, use exemplary innovative and collaborative methods, take on challenging rotational assignments, and/or have the greatest impact on agency priorities and mission imperatives in a given performance period," the memo states.

The budgetary limits apply to awards made during fiscal 2017 -- Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017.

The change comes as welcome news to the Senior Executives Association, which represents SES personnel.

"Suppression of the available award pool in recent years has hampered the ability of agencies to reward their top-performing executives and has resulted in lowered morale and engagement of executives, as well as heightened rates of executive attrition," Jason Briefel, the association's interim president, told FCW. "SEA will continue its campaign to ensure progress toward restoring the full statutory award pool for the government's career executive leaders."

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