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Senior Execs’ Bonuses, Performance Reviews Could Soon Come Under Tighter Scrutiny

OPM rolls out update to SES performance management standards.

The Obama administration continued its focus on career senior leaders in federal government this week, proposing new regulations to standardize performance management of agencies’ top civil servants.

The Office of Personnel Management released on Wednesday a proposed rule to update a three-year-old statute requiring agencies to implement performance standards for Senior Executive Service employees. OPM clarified and updated a standardized appraisal system available for all agencies, though its use is not required.

The proposal will provide “an updated framework and system standards for agencies to use in designing their SES performance management systems,” OPM wrote in the rule. OPM will ramp up oversight of each agency’s appraisal system to ensure it falls within the general, governmentwide construct.

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 would expand the rating levels for senior executives from three to five. The new categories would be outstanding, exceeds fully successful, fully successful, minimally satisfactory and unsatisfactory.

“These standards balance the need for a governmentwide approach to SES performance management with agency flexibility,” OPM wrote.

The Senior Executives Association has long called for a more uniform approach to SES evaluations, arguing standardization would clarify how executives are rated and create less disruption for supervisors moving among agencies.

The proposed rule “shows OPM is really interested in encouraging agencies to use a standardized system,” said Jenny Mattingley, SEA’s legislative director.  

Mattingley added that several agencies have opted into OPM’s appraisal system. Even those agencies that continue to implement their own systems would require review by OPM under the new system.

Interested parties have 60 days to offer comments on the proposal.

Earlier this week, 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. 

(Image via Ammentorp Photography/