The Senior Executive Service (SES) administers programs at the top levels of the government. Positions are primarily managerial and supervisory. The SES is a distinct personnel system with separate rules governing hiring, bonuses, training, performance evaluation, compensation, mobility, job protections, leave and numerous other parts of the overall employment package.
Each federal agency determines the qualifications required for its SES positions, and whether to consider only current federal employees or all qualified candidates. The most common methods of entry into the SES are direct application to a federal agency for a specified position, application to an agency for inclusion in its SES candidate development program, or participation in an OPM-run development program.
An applicant must meet two types of qualifications for any SES position: executive qualifications common to all SES positions, and the specific, professional/technical qualifications for the position being advertised. The core qualifications common to all SES positions are: leading change, leading people, results-driven, business acumen and ability to build coalitions. Competencies considered fundamental to these qualifications include interpersonal skills, oral communication, integrity/honesty, written communication, continual learning and public service motivation. The competencies serve as a career development guide to those aspiring to the SES ranks.
Agencies identify the specific, professional/technical qualifications for the position being filled and list the qualifications requirements for the position in their vacancy announcements. Applicants need to obtain a copy of the agency’s vacancy announcement to respond to these requirements.
SES Pay rates
SES salaries are set within a pay band that has a minimum salary equivalent to 120 percent of the rate for grade 15, step 1, of the general schedule base rate, not including GS locality pay adjustments. The maximum rate is either the rate for Level III or the rate for Level II of the Executive Schedule; the higher Level II applies when the agency’s executive performance appraisal system has been certified by the Office of Personnel Management, with Office of Management and Budget concurrence, as making meaningful distinctions among employees based on relative performance.
Those moving from an agency eligible for the higher cap to an SES position at another agency subject to the lower cap continue to receive a higher salary rate, if applicable. In general, agencies are to pay SES members at least as much as any employee they supervise.
Executives get raises based on individual performance and/or contribution to the agency’s performance, as determined by the performance management system. An exec who receives a rating of “less than fully successful” is ineligible for a raise, while one with an “outstanding” rating must be considered for a pay raise, although is not guaranteed one.
SES members in an agency with a certified executive performance appraisal system are subject to a higher aggregate compensation limit (that is, base salary, plus performance bonus for career SES members, and other allowances and incentives) equivalent to the pay of the Vice President. Absent certification, annual aggregate compensation is limited to the rate for Level I of the Executive Schedule.
Current rates are at www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages.
Senior Executive Service (SES) Post Employment Restrictions
Post-employment restrictions—Public Law 108-136 established a salary-based trigger for certain post-employment restrictions. Any SES member whose basic pay is at least 86.5 percent of the rate for Level II of the Executive Schedule is subject to those restrictions.
The post-employment restrictions require that for one year after service in a “senior” position ends, no former “senior” employee may knowingly make, with the intent to influence, any communication to or appearance before an employee of a department or agency in which he or she served in any capacity during the one-year period prior to ending service in that “senior” position, if that communication or appearance is made on behalf of any other person (except the United States), in connection with any matter concerning which he or she seeks official action by that employee.
SES Performance Awards
Performance awards may be given only to career executives, and are for performance during the previous appraisal period. The agency head or designee makes awards following recommendation by a performance review board. An executive may be awarded a lump-sum payment between 5 percent and 20 percent of basic pay.
Superior accomplishment incentive awards for suggestion, invention, or a special act or service may be paid, but not in lieu of a performance award.
SES Presidential Rank Awards
Each year, the government recognizes a small group of career senior executives with the Presidential Rank Award. There are two categories of awards, Distinguished Executives and Meritorious Executives. Award winners are nominated by their agency heads, evaluated by boards of private citizens, and approved by the President. The evaluation criteria focus on sustained leadership and production of results. When considering potential nominees, agencies must exercise diligence in reviewing both the background of nominees (including any issues relating to conduct) as well as the programs and organizational components for which the nominees have any responsibility.
Distinguished Executives receive a lump-sum payment of 35 percent of their base pay, a gold pin, and a framed certificate signed by the President. Only 1 percent of career SES members may receive the award.
The Meritorious Executive award is given for long-term accomplishments. Only 5 percent of career SES members may receive the award, which includes a lump-sum payment of 20 percent of the executive’s base pay, a silver pin, and a framed certificate signed by the President.