The number of career members of the Senior Executive Service who received bonuses grew by more than 10 percent in fiscal 2016, and average individual awards increased by more than $3,000 compared to the previous year, according to a recent report from the Office of Personnel Management.
The annual document, dated January 2018, noted that the increase was greater than in previous years, in part due to an increase in the budgetary awards cap for SES bonuses, and in part because of a change in how the top-line numbers are calculated.
In fiscal 2016, 81.4 percent of career senior executives received some form of performance award, an increase of 10.2 percentage points over the portion to receive awards in fiscal 2015.
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The average bonus for career SES members was $11,928 in fiscal 2016, an increase of $1,186 when compared with the fiscal 2015 report. However, new methodology in the latest report includes all SES members who rated at Fully Successful or higher—even if those executives’ agencies have policies that further restrict who is eligible for a bonus. The fiscal 2016 report includes fiscal 2015 data recalculated using the new methodology, leading to a conclusion that the average bonus actually increased by $3,667 between the two years.
Also contributing to the increase in award payouts was an increase in the budgetary amount that agencies could spend on bonuses, from 4.8 percent in fiscal 2015 to 7.5 percent of aggregate career SES salaries in fiscal 2016. Additionally, the percentage of senior executives who received the highest rating of Outstanding increased from 48.9 percent in fiscal 2015 to 51.7 percent in 2016.
Across government, the average rate of basic pay for senior executives rose to $172,648 in fiscal 2016, which marks a 2.3 percent adjustment as a percent of basic pay. In fiscal 2015, that rate of increase was slightly lower, at 1.9 percent.
OPM saw the greatest increase in SESers rated at Outstanding, jumping 26.2 percentage points to 39.5 percent. The General Services Administration saw a similar rise, as 37.8 percent of career SES members were rated Outstanding, compared to only 21.9 percent in fiscal 2015.
But at the State Department, the fraction of senior executives who were rated at the highest level plummeted by 38.6 percentage points in fiscal 2016, falling from 95.8 percent in fiscal 2015 to 57.2 percent the following year.
Unlike other federal employees, members of the SES are not eligible for locality pay, and bonuses are designed to be part of the compensation package for those who are performing well. In 2015, OPM established rules attempting to create a more uniform performance review process for senior executives across agencies.