A report by the Partnership for Public Service and McKinsey & Company released in February bemoaned the lack of mobility of Senior Executive Service members. Nearly half of all SESers stayed in the same position throughout their career, the report found. Only 8 percent had ever changed agencies.
Moran said he was working on a bill that would make SES the “federal government’s A-team.”
But with the introduction of new SES reform legislation last week, Moran said he’s now emphasizing a more pragmatic, realistic approach.
The problem, Moran said in an interview Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp, is that over the years, a number of “unintentional disincentives” have been built into the program that make it less attractive for prospective employees to sign up.
For example, in order for SESers to receive a pay increase, lawmakers must also authorize a pay raise for themselves, which in today’s anti-Washington mood is politically untenable. SESers have gone without a pay increase since 2009, Moran said.
The bill would automatically increase pay for SES members who receive a performance rating of at least “fully successful.”
It would also add on bonus and awards to the annuity calculation of employees’ three highest-earning years of work. These provisions help remedy pay compression, Moran said, the area of overlap between the highest rungs of the GS schedule and the SES system
SES mobility hasn’t always worked in practice
But increasing SES mobility — through mandatory rotations — would simply be one more thing potentially driving away SES recruits, he said.
“Theoretically, I think, that mobility should continue to be a major element of the Senior Executive Service,” Moran said. “The idea is you would get senior managers who would bring best practices from one agency to another and would get a more comprehensive perspective of the whole overall objectives of the federal government and would not have their information and responsibility stovepiped.”
But it hasn’t always worked in practice, “and mobility actually has undermined the incentives we try to provide SES employees,” Moran said.
“We have to be realistic here and understand that there are already too many disincentives to get in the SES,” he said. And if those hurdles are not removed, the program risks becoming “a vestige of the past, a program gone awry.”
The pragmatic approach the bill takes is necessary to “really rescue the whole concept and the whole idea of SES, itself, which was well-intentioned,” Moran said. “But if we don’t make pragmatic changes, it’s just going to be one more well-intentioned idea that will have dissipated to the point where it’s nonexistent in the federal workforce.”
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.