Report: New Urgency for Building Pipeline of Future Leaders

Olivier Le Moal/

The expected retirement of two-thirds of the Senior Executive Service in the next five years makes urgent the task of building a federal leadership pipeline, says a study set for release on Tuesday.

Prevention of an agency brain drain will require formal training programs, on-the-job experience and “opportunities to learn from coaches, mentors and peers,” said a study titled “Building the Leadership Bench” by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm.

Enriching the pipeline of rising leaders will also require agencies, working through what is a highly a decentralized process, to seek outside talent from other agencies and the nonprofit and private sectors, though the bulk of leaders will come from inside government, the study found. “Data from the first three quarters of fiscal 2012 show that about three of four new SES members were hired from within the agency subcomponent in which they were already working,” the report said. Twenty of 28 agencies hire fewer than 10 percent of their SES members from outside the federal government, it said.

“There needs to be a very deliberate focus on what that the pipeline looks like, not agency by agency, but holistically across government,” Max Stier, president and CEO of the partnership, told Government Executive, noting that 900 of the 7,000 SES members turn over every year. “There is a lot of opportunity to improve the development process of who those people are and to grow and develop them as an enterprise asset. But it requires strategic planning and growing the right talent earlier than is typically done.”

One underutilized training tool, the report suggested, is the Candidate Development Programs, which have graduated 1,117, with the most participation by the Treasury and Homeland Security departments.

Overall, the agencies with the most promising programs to “build the bench” are the Defense Department, Government Accountability Office, Internal Revenue Service, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Veterans Affairs Department, the study said.

The IRS, for example, has a formal review process for managers and prospective managers that allows for collection of data on rising leaders, which can be used to counsel aspiring leaders on their strengths and weaknesses.

The report recommended a more centralized approach to recruiting leaders, with new effort from the Office of Management and Budget, the President’s Management Council and the Office of Personnel Management. OPM, for example, could create a central resume bank of aspiring and current SES members, the report said. Congress should assure funding for leadership development and the president should “convene the SES as a community to show the administration’s support for senior leaders and inspire those in the pipeline.”

The report provides agency-by-agency retirement data.

(Image via Olivier Le Moal/

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