OPM launches program to diversify senior executive corps

To help increase diversity in the Senior Executive Service, the Office of Personnel Management has created a new program to help develop a more diverse pool of candidates for positions in the government's top management corps.

On Thursday, OPM Director Kay Coles James joined with Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., to unveil a new Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program. SES members administer public programs at the top levels of the federal government. Positions are primarily managerial or supervisory and candidates undergo a rigorous selection process.

The new program will focus on training qualified women, minorities and people with disabilities to take on senior executive roles at agencies. After they complete the program participants will be placed in SES positions. Part of the impetus for the program came from reports by the General Accounting Office, which found that the SES was not representative of the workforce or the population, James said. A February report concluded that a pending retirement wave in the SES would provide an opportunity for agencies to diversify the senior executive pool.

"There should be more opportunity to move into the senior ranks, and this program will do that," James said. "This will ensure they won't bump into a glass ceiling, a concrete ceiling, an aluminum ceiling or frankly, any kind of ceiling. We're recruiting the next generation of leaders."

While actual applications for the program may not be available for another six months or so, OPM plans to advertise the program widely to attract a wide range of candidates from inside and outside of the federal workforce. Aspiring SES members must meet certain executive qualifications, which include leadership skills, and abilities to produce results, manage people and budgets, and build coalitions. The 12-to-14 month program will help candidates develop skills in those areas through job rotations, mentoring, performance assessments and other training.

"This has a dual mission of not just getting people through the program, but making sure once they get through the program they are placed," James said. "Our human capital survey told us that employees are concerned about their managers…so we have a responsibility to respond to that."

Initially, the program will accept up to 50 participants and operate twice a year. Though agencies will not be required to adopt the development program, they will be held accountable for their efforts at promoting and encouraging diversity within their SES staff.

"Senior executive members lead change in the federal government, and they should be as diverse as the people they serve," said Davis, who along with several other members of Congress called for OPM to create more opportunities for diversity in the SES. "We will be monitoring agencies that have work to do in increasing minorities in the SES and expect that they will participate in the candidate development program," the lawmaker added.

While generally enthusiastic about the program, Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro did question the fate of SES candidates who had already completed certification programs and have yet to be placed.

"I think that's the real question as to how this will work," Bonosaro said. "The program certainly is an excellent idea because not every agency has a candidates program, but it is a bit of a conundrum with folks who are waiting to be placed and at the same time another program is starting up."

For Ramsey Alexander Jr., a member of the Washington area chapter of Blacks in Government (BIG), the new program is long overdue.

"It may be a big help with getting minorities into the pipeline and into the SES," Ramsey said. "If they stick with two basic things, merit and qualifications, this will be great."

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