Jordan LaPier
(202) 495-3320

Letter to Chairmen Walberg and Issa on H.R. 5169

July 29, 2014

Contact: Sarah Howe
(202) 775-9111

WASHINGTON–Partnership President and CEO, Max Stier, shares feedback on the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act and urges Chairman Walberg and Issa to take a more holistic approach to reforming the SES and examine how agencies recruit, select, develop, manage and hold executives–career and political–accountable:

“Dear Chairmen Walberg and Issa:

On behalf of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the effectiveness of our federal government, we thank you for taking an interest in the Senior Executive Service (SES). We agree that good leadership—career and political—is vital to the success of our government, and we share your desire to strengthen the SES and ensure executives are delivering on their agency’s mission on behalf of the American people.

As you continue to amend the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act before it heads to the House floor, we would like to share a few ideas for your consideration. While we appreciate the intent of the proposed legislation to improve the overall effectiveness of the Senior Executive Service, it is important to ensure that none of the provisions have the unintended consequence of undermining either the Senior Executive Service or the statutory merit system principles. We note, for example, that the mandatory leave provisions in the legislation could hold an individual culpable, before a thorough review has been made, by requiring executives on mandatory leave to be charged accrued annual leave for the period of their absence. We recommend executives be placed on paid administrative leave, with a provision allowing agencies to claw back those salaries should an individual ultimately be found to be at fault.

More broadly, we encourage Congress to take a more holistic approach to reforming the SES. We believe there is much that can be done to strengthen the SES and urge Congress to examine how agencies recruit, select, develop, manage and hold executives—career and political—accountable. We also urge Congress to consider broader structural reform to the SES and enable our government to operate as a single enterprise, rather than a collection of different agencies, and to encourage senior executives to be viewed as enterprise-wide assets who can work across agencies and sectors to solve complex challenges.

We offer the following recommendations, many of which were outlined in our recent report, Building the Enterprise: A New Civil Service Framework, and would welcome the opportunity to work with your offices on more comprehensive reform.

  • Create a single, four-tier SES with increased responsibility and pay. Ensure that each of the four tiers includes separate tracks for technical experts. This would allow agencies to promote skilled professionals for their technical abilities and not force them to become supervisors and managers in order to advance professionally.
  • Designate Tier 4 SES (the highest level) as enterprise executives who are deployed across government to fulfill specific cross-agency missions and functions. Require enterprise executives to serve five-year term appointments and hold performance contracts with the Presidents Management Council (PMC). Authorize enterprise executives to be compensated up to the vice president’s salary or, at a minimum, Level I of the federal Executive Schedule.
  • Establish an Enterprise Executive Resources Board—chaired by the Deputy Director of Management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and comprised of members of the PMC, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and some of government’s most respected former career executives—to select, deploy, monitor and evaluate Tier 4 enterprise executives.
  • Authorize agencies, rather than OPM, to certify that their selected SES candidates in Tiers 1 through 3 possess the Executive Core Qualifications, rather than relying on the current OPM-run Qualifications Review Board that now must approve those chosen for executive positions. Require OPM to review hiring decisions annually to ensure agencies are acting appropriately.
  • Require agencies to review their SES positions when there is a vacancy—using clear guidelines from OPM and OMB—to determine the skills and qualifications necessary for the position. If the position is found not to meet the requirements of the SES, agencies should be required to reclassify the position as Senior Level (SL) or Senior Technical (ST). Require OPM to increase the allocation of SL and ST positions to support the proper classification of positions by moving some SES positions to the SL or ST category.
  • Require candidates for the SES to have demonstrated experience in another sector, level of government or agency before being selected for the SES. This will ensure executives are being selected, in part, for their breadth of experience and ability to work effectively across organizational and functional boundaries.
  • Require agencies to accept traditional resumes for SES positions in the initial stage of the hiring process to ensure agencies are receiving a diverse pool of candidates from within and from outside government. Require agencies to conduct candidate, new hire and hiring manager surveys to ensure the hiring and selection process enables the best talent to serve.
  • Require agencies to establish robust onboarding programs for career and political appointees, and require OPM to provide additional government-wide training, including how career and political appointees can work together effectively.
  • Require agencies to set aside 2 to 3 percent of executive salaries in a development fund for the SES.
  • Require executives—career and political—be held accountable in their performance plans for taking steps to address employee satisfaction and commitment. Also hold them accountable for managing their employees, including rewarding high performers and developing and/or removing poor performers.
  • Cap the number of non-career SES at each agency at 10 percent to ensure that no agency becomes a repository for political favors and to promote better selection of individuals whose skills match agency missions. Currently, the percentage of political non-career members of the SES is limited by law to 10 percent government-wide, but individual agencies can and do exceed this percentage.
  • Require that C-suite positions, such as chief financial officers, chief human capital officers, chief information officers and chief acquisition officers, be filled by a career appointee for a renewable term of six years and require performance contracts for these positions. We believe that reducing the number of management jobs filled through political appointments will reduce critical vacancies across government and ensure continuity between administrations. We also believe that Congress should require each new administration to recommend specific political positions that should be converted to career status or eliminated altogether.
  • Authorize and appropriate funds for OPM to create an online community for the SES to facilitate communication, information sharing, mobility, developmental opportunities, information gathering and sharing of job vacancies.
  • Require agencies to conduct exit interviews and surveys of all members of the SES who retire, or otherwise leave their position, to better understand the reasons for their departure and to make continuous improvements.

Thank you for considering our recommendations. As the demands on executives today are increasing and the challenges they face are more complex, it is imperative that Congress examine what can be done to support the current workforce and ensure our federal government has the talent it needs to be successful in the future.

Very best wishes,
Max Stier
President and CEO”

The Partnership for Public Service works to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works.