SES shakeup: Reform or hissing contest?

Wednesday - 2/19/2014, 2:00am EST

Do you enjoy seeing your boss squirm? Or are you blessed with a leader who does a great job and appreciates your efforts?

Would you, as an employee and a taxpayer, like to introduce a little less job security into the boss' life? Or, do you think that career SESers need legal insulation from come-and-go (sometimes crash-and-burn) political appointees whose average working lifespan is about 18 months?

No matter where you are in the federal civil service, odds are you report to somebody in the Senior Executive Service. There are almost 8,000 SESers. Nine out of 10 are career employees (as opposed to political appointees). Most are white males, but women and minorities are moving up and into the rarified air of the SES at a good clip.

Thirty-three percent of the SES are women, 11 percent black, 4 percent are Hispanic and 4.4 percent are Asian, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Pay for members of the SES ranges from $120,749 to $181,500.

Two members of Congress, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced bills that would make it easier to fire members of the SES, starting at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has one of the largest numbers of senior executives after the Defense Department and Homeland Security.

Under the rules of the SES, set up during the Jimmy Carter administration, members can be fired for misconduct, neglect of duty and malfeasance, or failing to accept a new assignment. They must be given 30 days notice and have appeal rights via the Merit Systems Protection Board. People familiar with the SES say that few people are actually fired, but that many are "strongly encouraged" to resign or retire and generally do so.

Rubio, and particularly Miller, say that VA is doing a lousy job in its core mission: Taking care of veterans. Particularly those who are getting, or should get, medical and psychiatric treatment. He's particularly unhappy with case backlogs, and large (five-figure) bonuses to some executives who, he says, don't even come close to doing their jobs.

Miller was interviewed earlier this week on our In Depth show hosted by Francis Rose.

Today we're going to talk with Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association. She'll be our lead-off guest today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show. Bonosaro was herself an SES member before taking over the organization that represents career members of the elite service.

It's no surprise that Bonosaro thinks the whack-the-VA-execs bills are "a solution in search of a problem." She said the proposals are unfair, unnecessary and would likely create "undue political influence" first in the VA, then in other agencies.

If they are successful with the VA, they will next come after your boss, she said. And that, she feels, could cause chaos with each change of administration, eventually leading to a return of the spoils system.

Later in the show, Federal Times writers Sean Reilly and Andy Medici will give us their take on the SES proposals and an update of what's going on in agencies and on Capitol Hill.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese video game designer responsible for classics such as Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong, named the titular character in The Legend of Zelda after Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of The Great Gatsby scribe, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

(Source: Today I Found Out)


MORE FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

Nominations now open for 2014 Causey Awards
Federal News Radio's 5th Annual Causey Awards seek to recognize and honor the good works of people who challenged the status quo and changed, for the better, human capital management. Nominate someone today for his or her outstanding achievements and important human capital/human resources contributions. While we're looking for people who made a difference in the HR world, they don't necessarily have to work in an HR role. In the past, we've honored CIOs, a chief of staff, and an inspector general, in addition to human resources professionals, all for their contributions in the HR arena.

Miller: VA too shy about firing middle managers
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is the author of new legislation that would make it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to fire its senior executives. Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, tells Federal News Radio the agency is too shy about cutting loose middle managers who are performing poorly.

GSA offers cash for ideas to reduce federal travel costs
The General Services Administration is offering $35,000 to the winner of a competition to identify ways for agencies to reduce travel costs.