What's in store for SESers?

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A handful of the federal government's more than 6,000 senior executives are being honored this week with the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive. This year's winners get a $20,000 bonus with the award. Starting next year, the award will include a bonus worth 35 percent of their base salary.

The catch-and there always is one for career civil servants-is that members of the Senior Executive Service have a cap on their total annual pay. The cap is set at Executive Level I, the top rung of the scale on which Cabinet officers and members of Congress are paid. This year, that cap is $151,800. Assuming the cap is the same next year, top-ranked SESers, whose base salaries are $118,400, would not get $8,040 of the $41,440 due them as distinguished rank award winners, because that would put their total compensation at $159,840.

Of course, the $33,400 they would get is still better than what distinguished rank award winners got in previous years. Through this year, winners receive a flat $20,000.

In the fiscal 1999 Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill, Congress changed the bonus award from a flat $20,000 to 35 percent of base salary. SESers can also be honored with the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive, which through this year came with a $10,000 prize. Now the bonus is worth 20 percent of basic pay.

In the same bill, Congress enlarged the pool of money available to agencies for executive bonuses.

Now OPM, along with along with Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government, wants to make sure executives can actually get the money. They have proposed raising the cap on SESers' total compensation to the Vice President's salary, which now stands at $175,000.

The proposal is one of nearly 40 "civil service improvements" that the Clinton administration has floated this year. Many of the proposals, including the higher cap on total SES pay, would require legislative action.

Another of the administration proposals would affect SESers' annual leave.

"Stakeholders cite annual leave accrual as one of the disincentives for attracting high quality executives from the private sector," the administration's draft proposals say. Congress should amend civil service law "to give SES members an 8-hour annual leave accrual on appointment and provide annual leave credits as a recruitment tool for agency use on a selected basis as a hiring incentive," the administration suggests.

Other SES-related provisions of the administration's proposals include abolishing the SES recertification process and finding ways to better link SES pay to performance.

Last year, OPM proposed dramatically reshaping the SES. Among the ideas it backed were plans to completely de-link SES pay from congressional pay, tie pay adjustments to mobility, and make structural changes to the way the top cadre of civil servants is organized.

OPM received mixed feedback on its proposals last year from executives, agencies, associations, and public administration experts. OPM has decided to concentrate on a few objectives, some of which have reappeared in the administration's civil service package, including the annual leave and higher total pay cap ideas.

But OPM is not pushing a sweeping reform of the SES. Instead, executives can expect further incremental changes to the way they are paid and rewarded, like the rank award bonus changes Congress enacted for this year.

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