In Transition: A New Handbook From SEA

The Senior Executives Association has issued “A Handbook for Political Appointees” designed to answer questions and help Trump administration political appointees adjust to their new positions. The release of the handbook comes during a presidential transition that may be more challenging for political appointees than in years past.

The Senior Executives Association (SEA) has issued “A Handbook for Political Appointees” designed to answer questions and help Trump administration political appointees adjust to their new positions.

SEA is a professional association representing more than 7,000 Senior Executive Service members and other career federal executives.

“It is crucial for any new Administration to maximize the use of the career SES corps to achieve swift and successful implementation of its critical initiatives,” said Bill Valdez, President of SEA. “Conversely, career executives must also strive to forge constructive relationships with new appointees through cooperation and support. When both parties value and understand the other’s role, both the agency and the work they are doing there on behalf of the American public thrive.”

Chapters of the handbook include:

  • Why Is the Career Executive Corps Critical to Meeting Your Goals?
  • Enabling the Career Political Executive Team to Function Well
  • The Benefits of Staffing Political Positions with Senior Executives
  • Understanding the Senior Executive Service: SES 101

Whether Trump appointees are in any mood to take advice from senior federal bureaucrats remains to be seen. So far, the Trump transition team has indicated a deep skepticism about the federal government by using phrases such as “drain the swamp.”

Although the administration may wish to make quick leadership changes, the SEA points out that there is a 120-day rule during transition periods.

“When the head of the department or agency (not a component agency, except within the Department of Defense – DoD) is new or when a new non-career immediate supervisor is appointed who has authority to conduct an initial appraisal of the career executive’s performance: no involuntary reassignments or performance-based removals of career SES may take place for 120 days (unless the performance based removal is based on a less than Fully Successful rating given before the appointment of the new agency head that triggered the moratorium).”

Other than the 120-day transition rule, SES members may be removed if they receive two minimally successful ratings within five years, or two less than fully successful ratings (i.e., unsatisfactory and/or minimally satisfactory) within three years. If one unsatisfactory rating, must be moved to another SES position or removed from SES.

It remains to be seen whether the new administration will want to change these rules and speed up removal of SES members.

To quote from the introduction to the handbook, “Presidential transitions are challenging periods for new political appointees and career executives alike.” That may be more true in 2017 than in past years.

Political Appointee Handbook

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.