Obama SES reform plan makes problem worse, not better

Share Button

President Obama’s comments about the Senior Executive Service prompted me to write this commentary on FederalNewsRadio.com:

President Obama’s comments today may have made the SES morale problem worse, not better, for three reasons:

1. The President spoke as though his administration invented the importance of recognizing federal employee excellence. “We’re creating an award to recognize outstanding service,” he said. “I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before, but we’re going to start.”The President’s proposal for a new Customer Service Awards program is overdue, but SESers can be excused for being less than impressed by this effort; and the idea is far from a new concept to recognize those who go above and beyond. The government started recognizing excellence among Senior Executives even before there was a Senior Executive Service. The government presented the first Presidential Rank Awards in 1978; the Civil Service Reform Act that established the SES didn’t take effect until 1979.President Obama himself broke that award streak, though, when the White House canceled the awards in 2013. The Office of Personnel Management continued collecting nominations that year, and the awards were reestablished this year. But it still rings hollow for the President to now claim, as though it’s shiny and new, “We are going to honor the people who do this job best.”

2. He’s recycling the original point of the Senior Executive Service to create something he calls “new.” The Office of Personnel Management says “Current and aspiring executives have the option to participate in mobility assignments.” That sounds remarkably similar to the concept behind Obama’s White House Leadership Development Program. “Talented civil servants are going to have a chance to rotate through different agencies on high-priority assignments,” the President said, “and then they’ll bring back their new expertise to their home agency.” Another program that already exists allows employees to go on detail to an agency outside their current ones, and return to their home agencies at the end of that detail.

3. He’s content to examine the SES problem for the last two years of the administration instead of doing something about it. “We’re creating a White House Advisory Group on Senior Executive Service reform,” the President said. “It’s going to include leaders from large and small agencies, as well as rising leaders — we want to hear from them too.” Will this group examine this research from 2009? Or this proposal for SES reform from September 2012? Or this book from 2013? Orthe newest one, just released two weeks ago? Or any of the others that have come down the road since 1979? The work on needed-reforms for the SES has already been done. There is remarkably little disagreement and much consensus. But President Obama missed an opportunity to take action, instead of proposing another blue-ribbon panel to admire the problem instead of fix it.

Read the entire commentary here.