The percentage of Senior Executive Service members receiving performance awards also fell, dropping 3.8 percentage points from 78.5 percent in fiscal 2009 to 74.7 percent in fiscal 2010. "As a result of reduced budgets and fiscal challenges, agencies have become more selective in determining the number and amount of SES performance awards they grant," the report stated.
OPM found that agencies began tightening their belts in fiscal 2010, before the two-year federal pay freeze took effect in January 2011. While the pay freeze affects members of the SES, it does not prohibit agencies from handing out performance awards. Agencies, however, were tougher on assessing executives' job performance in fiscal 2010: The percentage of SES members rated at the highest level on their evaluation decreased by 2.6 points from fiscal 2009.
"I am surprised that, although the cap on SES performance awards was cut in half for fiscal year 2011, agencies seemed to have anticipated it and begun putting it into effect for fiscal year 2010 with decreases in the number and average amount of awards," said Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association.
In addition, no agencies reported making any pay adjustments to senior executives' salaries in fiscal 2010. Bonosaro said she was "incredulous" that there were no pay adjustments for SESers as the pay freeze does allow increases for those who are promoted to jobs with greater responsibility. "It's virtually impossible to believe that none were," she said.
The analysis noted, "the trend data for the past several years demonstrates agencies have more rigorously appraised executive performance and have made better distinctions in executive performance." A few departments rated more of their senior executives at the highest level in fiscal 2010 than in fiscal 2009, including Defense, Education, Homeland Security and Justice. The average performance award for an outstanding or the equivalent rating in fiscal 2010 was $13,391 for the H Pattern pay-for-performance system and $14,074 for the F Pattern system, according to OPM's report.
Agencies submitted rating and pay data for nearly 8,000 SES members. Of that group, agencies rated 96 percent of their career SES members, with 47 percent rated at the highest level. The government implemented pay-for-performance systems for senior executives in 2004.