It is not clear whether agencies are complying with restrictions against reassigning career SES members after the installation of a new agency head or a new political appointee above the career exec, GAO has said.
In both of those situations, there is what is commonly called a “getting to know you” period of 120 days in which agencies cannot involuntarily reassign career SES members; voluntary reassignments are allowed with a written waiver signed by the exec that the agency is to keep on file.
GAO reviewed four departments — Commerce, Energy, HUD and Interior — that had the highest rates of SES reassignments in such periods over 2017-2019: 28 related to a new agency head and 13 related to a new supervisor.
Reassignment authority “enables the head of an agency to reassign senior executives to best accomplish the agency’s mission. At the same time, the SES is to be administered so that it protects senior executives from arbitrary or capricious actions, provides for program continuity and policy advocacy in the management of public programs, and provides for an executive system, which is guided by the public interest and free from improper political interference,” said GAO.
It said the departments “could not always demonstrate that they met requirements for career SES reassignments, especially for reassignments during the new, noncareer supervisor moratorium.” Commerce did not maintain the required documentation; HUD did not seek written waivers from one career SES member; and Interior’s process did not address how to make reassignments during the moratorium, it said.
“As a result, they could not always show that career SES member reassignments during moratorium periods were voluntary. Each agency made or was making improvements to their career SES reassignment process, but in some cases need to make further process changes to fully address reassignment requirements,” GAO said.
It added that while OPM has oversight authority, “it has not monitored career SES reassignments, or required agencies to take corrective actions. As a result, OPM is likely missing opportunities to correct career SES reassignments that were contrary to requirements.”