FEC Recommends Top Leaders Be Eligible for Senior Executive Service
The Senior Executive Association’s initial review says the proposal “makes sense on its face.”
The nation’s campaign watchdog agency recommended to Congress on Thursday that its senior employees be able to join the Senior Executive Service.
That was one of 14 legislative recommendations the six commissioners of the Federal Election Commission unanimously approved during the panel’s eighth open meeting this year. The Senior Executive Service is the position classification for top policy, supervisory and managerial jobs in federal agencies.
“The commission believes that these statutory changes are needed to bring the commission’s personnel structure in line with that of other comparable federal agencies,” said an explanatory statement. “This would ensure that the commission is better able to compete with other government agencies in recruiting and retaining key management personnel.”
There are 12 top management positions––the chief financial officer, inspector general, deputy IG, four deputy staff directors, two deputy general counsels, and three associate general counsels––who “would be more appropriately designated as SES,” the commission said. Changing these employees’ designations would not change expenses much because a law enacted in 2008 brought senior-level employees’ pay on par with that of SES members, the panel found.
There would be “institutional benefits” for FEC employees being in the SES system, the commission said, stating:
“SES candidates must go through a competitive selection process in order to enter a Candidate Development Program. Completion of a Candidate Development Program by candidates within the agency ensures that a cadre of SES-approved employees is available for selection and thereby assists in good succession planning. In addition, the SES system enables agencies to hire experienced and skilled leaders from a governmentwide, not just intra-agency, pool with relative ease and with the assurance that all such employees have met the same standards of development and experience. For example, because SES-certified applicants from outside the agency will have met all of the Executive Core Qualifications, the commission would be able to evaluate their applications with the assurance that fundamental competencies have already been developed.”
The commission previously made this recommendation, which would involve amending the Federal Election Campaign Act, in 2018, 2009 and 2004. It has been incorporated in proposed legislation, but those bills have not passed, the agency told Government Executive.
SES officials are present in about 75 federal agencies, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Government corporations, the Foreign Service, certain intelligence agencies and certain financial regulatory agencies are others exempt from it.
The commission also recommended that Congress amended the law to “delink” the staff director and general counsel’s salaries from levels IV and V of the executive schedule.
“The staff director and general counsel have significant responsibilities and oversight duties with respect to both administrative and legal areas, as well as management over almost all agency personnel,” said the statement. “According to recruiting specialists working with the commission, the current limit makes attracting a strong pool of applicants to these positions more challenging.” The agency’s inspector general has flagged appointment and retention of these key positions as an ongoing management challenge in reports from 2014 to 2021.
“We are still analyzing this proposal including looking at the rationale behind the exclusion in the original law in 1979,” Bob Corsi, president of the Senior Executives Association, told Government Executive in a statement on Friday. “That said, the rationale outlined by the FEC that the individuals currently occupying [senior level] roles, but performing duties more in line with SES designation makes sense on its face. SEA has long advocated for agencies appropriately using their allocations for both SES and [senior level and scientific and professional] slots, and we recognize the benefits the FEC could receive for their senior career leader cadre by having their executives able to join the SES.”
He added: “The bigger issue is that there are many pay disparities where SESs are being paid less than the employees they supervise, which persists despite the 2015 [executive order] on strengthening the SES.” The association believes “there are larger federal-wide pay disparity issues concerning SES and pay compression driven by linkages to the Executive Schedule, and we believe Congress and the administration should address this broader issue. Delinking executive compensation at this one agency absent a review of the broader issues seems premature.”
The FEC regained a quorum in December, and thus the ability to carry out the majority of its functions, after not having one for much of the 15 months prior, which was during the 2020 election cycle. The agency has 315 employees, according to the most recent federal data.
“Despite their ideological disagreements, FEC commissioners have a track record of coming together to issue unanimous recommendations to Congress,” said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, a nonprofit that seeks to reform government. “It's heartening to see that the FEC's six current commissioners came together to issue unanimous legislative recommendations to Congress,” which “represent many common sense fixes that Congress should act on.”