Tobias Arhelger/

Featured eBooks
Using Data to Support Decision Making
Smart Cities: Beyond the Buzz
What’s Next for Federal Customer Experience
Accomplishments: Amazing. Bonuses: $0

The Senior Executives Association honors high-performing executives in a year without formal awards.

With all the talk these days of inappropriate bonuses for executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, last night provided a look at the other end of the spectrum. The Senior Executives Association honored dozens of high-ranking career federal officials for highly impressive accomplishments that have received scant attention from the public -- or the nation’s political leaders, for that matter. And this year, those achievements come with bonuses totaling $0.

SEA held a reception at the State Department honoring the finalists for the Presidential Rank Awards, which recognize the highest-achieving senior federal leaders. Only 1 percent of the Senior Executive Service can achieve the rank of Distinguished Executive and 5 percent can be designated Meritorious Executives.

Ordinarily, Distinguished Executives get bonuses equal to 35 percent of their salaries, and Meritorious Executives get 20 percent. But last year, in the midst of the fight over sequestration and with a government shutdown looming, the White House canceled the awards for 2013. Under the law, though, the nomination and selection process for the  awards went on, and last month OPM published the names of the finalists who agreed to be publicly recognized.

Those finalists included:

  • Shay D. Assad, director of defense pricing in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who developed an acquisition plan that saved $15 billion over two fiscal years.
  • Deborah Jin of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who is an international leader in research on new forms of matter involving the gases of ultracold atoms and molecules.
  • Ellen Ochoa, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, who successfully completed four space missions, two involving assembly of the International Space Station and two examining the science behind ozone depletion.
  • Walker Smith, director of the Office of Global Affairs and Policy at the Environmental Protection Agency, who was chief architect of the agency’s petroleum refinery initiative, involving 22 settlements that required billions of dollars in pollution control.

Ordinarily, the SEA event is a black-tie gala affair, befitting the achievements of those honored. This year’s event was a more subdued reception, followed by an address by Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman and current head of the Volcker Alliance, which continues his longtime work to improve the operations of government and implementation of public policy.

Volcker stressed the need for attention to federal management issues, noting that the Constitution doesn’t address the development of public policy, but specifically mandates that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

High-ranking officials who attended the event in support of the honored senior executives included NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller Robert F. Hale, Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta, and Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Beth Cobert.

(Image via Tobias Arhelger/