Senior Execs Are Leaving Federal Service at a Faster Clip


The federal government’s senior executives are leaving the civil service at a rapidly increasing rate, according to a new report, creating the possibility for a significant shortage of qualified top managers.

Graduate students at The George Washington University, in conjunction with the Senior Executives Association, found through analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management a 36 percent increase in departures from Senior Executive Service employees since 2009. Separations for the rest of the federal workforce have decreased somewhat in the same period.

In fiscal 2009, senior executives left government a much lower rate than the rest of the workforce; 7 percent of SESers separated that year, compared to 10 percent of employees governmentwide. That gap has shrunk each of the last four years, according to the report, and in fiscal 2013 the separation rates were even.

The largest driver of senior executives out of government has been age. Nearly 80 percent of departing SES employees since 2009 were voluntary, non-early retirees. One in five, however, left through early retirement or resignation. Senior executives told researchers the financial crisis, pay compression, award suspension and sequestration were major factors that drove the supervisors out of federal service.

A recent Government Executive analysis found very few senior executives are forced out. Just 8 hundredths of 1 percent of SESers were fired for discipline or performance in fiscal 2013.

However, as more senior executives leave on their own volition -- and as an even greater number gear up for retirement thanks to the aging baby-boomer generation -- researchers said agencies must do more to prepare a new cadre of leaders and retain old ones.

Retention efforts should include internal agency incentives for baby boomers to continue working one to five years past their personally optimal retirement date, such as souvenirs and time off awards, the report said. Agencies should also lobby for locality pay for SES employees, the researchers suggested.  General Schedule workers receive pay adjustments based on the cost of living in their regions, while senior executives do not.

SEA and the graduate students acknowledged financial boosts for senior executives could prove a hard sell.

“Increasing pay to SES members may be difficult due to current political pressures and budget limitations,” the researchers wrote. “However, non-monetary acknowledgments of SES efforts and successes are low-cost ways to improve satisfaction and morale with the service.”

Researchers also suggested many GS-15s are not interested in becoming SES employees, as they felt the increased pay does not match the increased workload. Agencies should do a better job of incentivizing those employees, according to the report. A greater focus on training programs could also boost GS-15s’ interest in joining the SES.

Ultimately, extending the tenure of retirement-eligible managers while mentoring and training new talent will reduce “the chance that productivity will drastically decrease during the transition period between senior executives,” SEA and the students wrote.  

(Image via Pressmaster/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.