Moran takes pragmatic approach to SES reform

Tuesday - 7/3/2012, 3:45pm EDT

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.)

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Just a few months ago, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) was promising to jolt career federal executives out of their comfort zones.

A report by the Partnership for Public Service and McKinsey & Company released in February bemoaned the lack of mobility of Senior Executive Service members. Nearly half of all SESers stayed in the same position throughout their career, the report found. Only 8 percent had ever changed agencies.

Moran said he was working on a bill that would make SES the "federal government's A-team."

But with the introduction of new SES reform legislation last week, Moran said he's now emphasizing a more pragmatic, realistic approach.

'Unintentional disincentives'

The problem, Moran said in an interview Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp, is that over the years, a number of "unintentional disincentives" have been built into the program that make it less attractive for prospective employees to sign up.

For example, in order for SESers to receive a pay increase, lawmakers must also authorize a pay raise for themselves, which in today's anti-Washington mood is politically untenable. SESers have gone without a pay increase since 2009, Moran said.

Moran's bill, the SES Reform Act of 2012, aims to restore the incentives to working in the SES, he said.

The bill would automatically increase pay for SES members who receive a performance rating of at least "fully successful."

It would also add on bonus and awards to the annuity calculation of employees' three highest-earning years of work. These provisions help remedy pay compression, Moran said, the area of overlap between the highest rungs of the GS schedule and the SES system

SES mobility hasn't always worked in practice

But increasing SES mobility — through mandatory rotations — would simply be one more thing potentially driving away SES recruits, he said.

"Theoretically, I think, that mobility should continue to be a major element of the Senior Executive Service," Moran said. "The idea is you would get senior managers who would bring best practices from one agency to another and would get a more comprehensive perspective of the whole overall objectives of the federal government and would not have their information and responsibility stovepiped."

But it hasn't always worked in practice, "and mobility actually has undermined the incentives we try to provide SES employees," Moran said.

"We have to be realistic here and understand that there are already too many disincentives to get in the SES," he said. And if those hurdles are not removed, the program risks becoming "a vestige of the past, a program gone awry."

The pragmatic approach the bill takes is necessary to "really rescue the whole concept and the whole idea of SES, itself, which was well-intentioned," Moran said. "But if we don't make pragmatic changes, it's just going to be one more well-intentioned idea that will have dissipated to the point where it's nonexistent in the federal workforce."

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