Recognition for Highest Performing SES Members

Last year, the White House suspended awards for the Senior Executive Service (SES). The suspension was blamed on the tight budgets and the sequestration of funds. The finalists had already been selected at the time of the selection and no awards ceremony was held. A ceremony for these distinguished executives will be held in June sponsored by the Senior Executives Association. The delay was not appreciated by the Senior Executives Association (SEA), a group that represents the interests of career federal executives.

A column in the Washington Post noted that SEA President Carol Bonosaro wants President Obama to meet with the finalists and take a photo with them. “Doing that is worthy of his time,” she said, especially since he spends some of that time “pardoning turkeys and welcoming the Miami Heat to the White House.” No announcement that President Obama will meet with the SES members at the June 5th reception.

The 2013 finalists may be nominated for an award again in 2014 because they will not receive any monetary awards for 2014. Nominations for the fiscal 2014 awards are due by June 5 according to a May 12 memo distributed by the Office of Personnel Management and also noted in the guidance for the 2014 awards.

When the SES was created in 1978, President Carter said that “History will regard the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 as one of the most important laws enacted by this Congress.” Part of the deal in creating the SES was that the salary of the highest performing SES members was to be based on performance. The performance awards were substantial. The presidential rank awards established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 are the nation’s highest award for civil service and are offered once each year to officials throughout the federal government.  In 2012, 122 civil-service executives were presented with the awards.

In 1999, Congress raised the amount of the Distinguished Executive awards to 35 percent of the executive’s annual salary and the Distinguished Executive Rank Award is limited to one percent of the SES in a given year.  The Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive is second-highest annual award given to selected career SES members. The award is limited to no more than 5% of the members of the SES in any given year. Meritorious Rank Award recipients receive 20 percent of basic pay.

That was the theory at least. But, in a memorandum issued in 2013, “agencies must limit total spending on individual performance awards for career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and senior-level and scientific and professional (SLIST) employees to no more than five percent of their respective aggregate salaries.”

Not surprisingly, the Senior Executives Association (SEA), was not happy with canceling the awards and the delay in reinstating them. In January of 2014, SEA President Carol Bonosaro asked the administration to:

  • Host a meeting with the President for the awardees at all levels, including a photo opportunity
  • Provide all Rank awardees with a certificate or letter signed by the President
  • Permit OPM to publicize the names of the award winners and allow agencies to publicly recognize awardees and hold appropriate internal ceremonies
  • Confirm that the traditional Presidential Rank Awards program will be resumed upon the end of sequestration and assure that receipt of this year’s non-monetary awards will not preclude recipients from consideration for a monetary Presidential Rank Award upon resumption of that program

The organization also noted that “The Senior Executives Association believes that the awards are required by statute. Although the Association said at the time of the Administration’s announcement in June that SEA recognizes the concern for both budget and optics during the sequester, SEA also pointed out that it seemed rather short sighted to sacrifice a program designed to encourage and reward excellence in government, especially one which is completely justified given both the significant accomplishments of the awardees and the huge savings they secure for government and taxpayers. At such a challenging time, we need the kind of executives exemplified by the Presidential Rank Awards.”

© 2016 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources.

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