Executives association reaches out to Obama administration

The Senior Executives Association on Wednesday released tips on how President-elect Barack Obama can win over high-level career employees.

The paper, "A Message to the 44th President: Meeting Your Objectives Through Partnership With the Career Executive Service," gives the incoming administration advice on how to form a good relationship with members of the Senior Executive Service during the transition and Obama's first term.

"We hope [the paper] will facilitate a more thorough approach to revitalizing the career executive service than the piecemeal reforms that are typically undertaken," SEA President Carol Bonosaro said during a press conference Wednesday.

SEA recommended that Obama include career executives on his transition teams and place high-performing career officials in some jobs that typically have been occupied by political appointees. For example, the new administration should consider filling assistant secretary for administration slots and other positions that require experience and longevity with career employees, the group said. The association also recommended substantially cutting the number of political appointments and directing the Office of Personnel Management to develop policies to better manage the SES.

Upon taking office, Obama should ensure that political appointees are briefed on the value of career executives, and should direct those appointees to schedule meetings with executives to establish working relations and share policy and management goals, SEA stated. Obama also should meet with senior executives within the first few months of his administration to signal his support for a partnership, the group advised.

Bonosaro pointed to former President George H.W. Bush, who met with senior executives the week after his inauguration, as a model. "That meant a great deal to the corps, and we think it's worth emulating," she said.

SEA also recommended that the Obama administration schedule an annual presidential address to career executives and ensure that OPM updates Congress every two years on which SES positions should be occupied solely by career employees.

In addition, the paper encouraged the administration to back legislation that would improve the SES pay-for-performance system by addressing pay compression issues and ensuring all employees who receive a rating of at least "fully successful" receive a minimal increase consistent with the governmentwide raise. The group also plans to push for legislation that would allow agencies to include SES performance awards in calculating employees' high-three average salary for retirement.

"We think that including the performance awards would be very inexpensive for the government, and it would be one of those things that [draws] the best employees to aspire to the Senior Executive Service," said William Bransford, general counsel for SEA.

SEA said it also would push for a measure that would authorize part-time employment for retired executives with no reduction in annuity. Doing so would help offset the impending loss of experience and institutional knowledge due to retirements, the group said.

Bonosaro said SEA has not yet had any conversations with Obama's transition team, which was announced last week. But she noted that the group hopes to be involved with the team appointed to lead the transition at OPM.

"That's the nexus of where our issues will be," Bonosaro said. "In the past, the [transition teams] have been composed primarily of former political appointees, and that's why we think it's really important to have retired career executives who are well-versed in those agencies and can in fact be very helpful to the teams as possible members."

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