Fewer senior executives are satisfied with their pay, OPM finds

Fifty-seven percent surveyed say they plan to retire within five years.

A little more than half of all Senior Executive Service members are satisfied with their pay levels, a significant drop from 2008 numbers, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s latest SES survey.

OPM said 65 percent of about 7,000 career, noncareer and limited term SES members participated in its 2011 survey. Respondents fielded questions ranging from whether they thought they were being held accountable for achieving results (92 percent said yes) to whether they planned to retire within five years (57 percent do).

Nearly 51 percent of respondents said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their current pay, a drop from the 60.6 percent who voiced their satisfaction in OPM’s 2008 survey. According to a fiscal 2010 report, the most recent data on SES pay available on OPM’s website, executives governmentwide earn an average salary of $167,049.

Due to the current federal pay freeze, executive salaries for fiscal 2011 would have remained the same, with a small number of pay raises granted in instances where job responsibilities changed, according to Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. Bonosaro told Government Executive that pay remains inadequate for SES members and pointed out the difference in salary with those of government executives in Australia, with whom she had recently met.

“The pay cap in Australia for senior executives is $350,000,” Bonosaro said. “And they get a car. And they were astonished at the range of responsibilities that executives have in our government.”

Still, only 37 percent of respondents to the survey, which was released on Firday, thought pay and benefits were helpful tools for retaining high-level seniors, a finding Bonosaro said was telling of what isn’t being discussed at the executive level.

“Everyone accepts this notion of pay for performance,” she said. “But the question is, what does it actually achieve? Does it actually motivate people to work harder?”

Bonosaro was surprised that 1.3 percent of respondents reported having taken a sabbatical since joining the SES. Paid sabbaticals were briefly common in the early years of the SES, which began in 1979, according to Bonosaro. While agencies still have the authority to offer paid sabbaticals, very few have done so in the last several decades, she said.

“I’m surprised there is anyone left who reports having taken one,” she said. “Agencies don’t want to pay someone not to be there.”

The survey question did not specify paid sabbatical.

Bonosaro pointed to the retirement statistic as “just another reminder of the fact that we’re going to see a lot of people moving out over the next couple of years.”