Fewer senior executives across the federal government got bonuses in fiscal 2013 than in fiscal 2012, and the ones who did received slightly smaller awards on average, according to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management.
The number of career senior executives receiving a bonus based on their job performance decreased by 12.9 percent between fiscal years 2012 and 2013. On average, the amount of individual performance awards also fell $523 -- from $10,735 in fiscal 2012 to $10,212 in fiscal 2013. The highest average performance award in fiscal 2013 among agencies reporting data to OPM was $14,545 at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Federal budget pressures prompted the Office of Management and Budget in 2011 to cap awards to Senior Executive Service and senior-level scientific and professional employees to no more than 5 percent of their aggregate salaries, and the latest data reflects that. But on average, salaries increased 1.6 percent for career, non-career and limited-term SES members -- $2,718 – between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 because the three-year pay freeze for federal workers was lifted beginning in January 2014. The average salary for all senior executives across government in fiscal 2013 according to the data was $168,608.
Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, pointed out that SESers do not receive locality pay (those under the General Schedule do, but locality pay has been frozen since 2011) and their pay increases are based on performance and at the agency’s discretion.
“The decrease in performance awards is yet another indicator that the SES ‘pay-for-performance’ system is broken,” said Bonosaro. “If pay for performance is to work, then the system has to be transparent, employees have to be rated fairly, and the pay increases and awards based on performance have to be forthcoming.”
Agencies submitted rating and pay data for nearly 8,000 SES members, and of that group, agencies rated 84.3 percent of their career SES members. Forty-five percent of those career senior executives were rated at the highest level, a decrease of 2.2 percent from fiscal 2012. The performance rating system for senior executives was slightly different in fiscal 2013 than it was in fiscal 2012. Another category -- “exceeds expectations” -- was added to the performance ratings for all senior executives. That level is between the top rating of “outstanding of equivalent” and the third tier of “fully successful.”
Still, according to OPM’s report, several departments rated more of their senior executives at the highest level in fiscal 2013 than in fiscal 2012, including Defense, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, the Office of Personnel Management and State. State, for instance, rated 40 percent more of their senior executives at the highest level in fiscal 2013 than in fiscal 2012: in fiscal 2013, the department rated 95.2 percent of 146 career senior executives at the highest performance level; in fiscal 2012, 55 percent of 133 career senior execs received that rating.
In December, OPM published a proposed rule to update a three-year-old statute requiring agencies to implement performance standards for SES employees.
Each agency would have to designate an official to oversee the performance management system and issue guidelines for appraisal, and OPM will designate an official of its own to oversee those officials. The rule also would expand the power of performance review boards, allowing them to weigh in on performance awards for those in the SES. The boards would be required to consider overall agency performance when making their recommendations.
The new guidance also would modify the rating levels for senior executives. The new categories would be outstanding, exceeds fully successful, fully successful, minimally satisfactory and unsatisfactory.
Also last month, President Obama spoke to 3,000 senior executives at an event in Washington, D.C. He offered words of support for their efforts, and unveiled three new initiatives to reform and modernize the executive workforce.
Eric Katz contributed to this report.