Incentives, not mobility, called key to improving Senior Executive Service

Caitlin Fairchild/Govexec.com

Mobility might not be the only key to improving the Senior Executive Service, as a recent study suggests.

Speaking Monday at a panel discussion hosted by Government Executive Media Group, Senior Executives Association General Counsel Bill Bransford suggested new initiatives that would require SES members to serve at more than one government agency as part of their service make more sense at some agencies than at others.

For example, requiring mobility at an agency with a targeted, unique mission, such as the Housing and Urban Development Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission, would be less beneficial to those agencies than requiring mobility at the Defense or Homeland Security departments, he said.

A recent report by the Partnership for Public Service and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. on mobility within the SES found that 48 percent of senior executives have never changed positions and only 8 percent have switched agencies during their careers.

Another recent survey of GS-14 and GS-15 employees showed that employees who are qualified to move into career SES positions are dissuaded from applying due to an unfavorable risk-to-reward ratio, concerns about mobility and a lack of work-life balance. In some cases, a GS-15 employee could earn the same salary in the SES.

Legislation proposed by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would reduce the percentage of noncareer SES appointees as part of an effort to make the SES more attractive to career employees. Akaka’s bill also would require all Cabinet-level agencies to have at least one career SES at the principal deputy assistant secretary level for every assistant secretary or comparable position. Currently, noncareer SES membership is capped at 25 percent of allocated positions -- including those that remain empty. The bill would lower that ceiling to 15 percent of filled positions.

Both Bransford and Angela Bailey, associate director of employee services at the Office of Personnel Management, agreed the reward-to-risk ratio has become skewed for federal employees considering joining the SES, but debated whether or not mandating incentives would improve the “cadre of senior professionals” created in 1978.

When a GS-15 employee does not want to join the SES, it “is sort of like an Army colonel not wanting to be a general,” Bransford said. "That’s what we have in the SES today." Offering performance rewards, such as a high-three annuity calculation for career SES employees -- a provision included in the Akaka bill -- might motivate more qualified candidates to apply, he said, adding he has heard that promotion panels “are less and less satisfied with applicants for SES.”

Bailey emphasized that the Senior Executive Service should be made up of candidates who want to be part of the service for reasons beyond monetary awards. “I’m not sure everyone is in [SES] for the money,” she said.

Regarding mobility, Bailey said agencies can benefit from a mix of institutional knowledge and leadership with experience in “other types of cultures,” adding that blend had “created tension” at OPM that has enabled the agency to deliver on initiatives such as improving USAJobs.gov and hiring reform.

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

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

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

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