Administration unveils new senior executive performance measurements

Process aims to streamline how top federal managers are evaluated.

This story has been updated.

The Office of Personnel Management on Friday unveiled a new performance management system for the Senior Executive Service.

Originally slated for completion in September 2011, the new measurements aim to streamline the way top managers in the federal government are evaluated.

"Under the new system, agencies will be able to rely upon a more consistent and uniform framework to communicate expectations and evaluate the performance of SES members," OPM Director John Berry wrote in a statement Friday.

"This system focuses, in particular, on the role and responsibility of SES employees to achieve results through effective executive leadership," Berry said. "The new system will also provide the necessary flexibility and capability for appropriate customization to better meet the needs of all agencies and other federal organizations (e.g., offices of inspectors general)."

The President's Management Council started a working group in 2010 to examine ways to improve SES performance evaluation. The recommendation to create a standard system came out of that group.

In a February 2011 memo to SES members, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients and Berry wrote that tight budgets, along with a growing workload, impending retirements and limited opportunities for development were straining the executive-level workforce.

Under the new management system, the core qualifications that determine a candidate's entry into the SES are applied to performance evaluations -- a move that makes sense, said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. The five core competencies are: leading people, leading change, results driven, business acumen and building coalition.

Executives who receive a final rating of "unsatisfactory" will be removed or reassigned; those who receive two ratings at less than Level 3 (of five levels) within three years will also be removed or reassigned, as will those who receive two level 1 ratings within five years. Overall, the SEA is "pleased" with the new system, which Bonosaro said "does tighten the level of performance."

Some senior executives have expressed concern over whether they will be rated fairly under the new measurement, fearing an administration could give out lower performance ratings for its own political benefit.

Under the current system, "plenty of executives have seen their ratings lowered without explanation," Bonosaro said.

In fiscal 2010, more than one third of all SES members received the highest possible rating.

"Having clarity about performance standards, that's all fine, but I think [senior managers] are just going to see if this is going to produce a different experience, or a better experience" with performance evaluations, she added.