Term limits for the SES?

Thursday - 2/20/2014, 2:00am EST

Legislative proposals to make it much, much easier to demote or fire top career executives has raised lots of eyebrows in the government's 7,000- strong SES community.

Under the latest proposal, the director of Veterans Affairs would be the first cabinet officer with the authority to fold, staple or mutilate top career civil servants with minimal appeal rights. He could also bump SESers (with average salaries of between $120,749 to $181,500) down the GS ladder where they could take major pay cuts.

Normally a plan like this, in a congressional election year, wouldn't get much traction. More noise than actual bang. But...

What bothers many in the SES is that one of the bills has been introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). He's on the short-list of possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates. The other is Rep. Jeff Miller (R- Fla.).

On our Your Turn radio show yesterday, Senior Executives Association President Carol Bonosaro said the bills are "a solution seeking a problem." She said there are already procedures for handling problem executives, and that if the plan was adopted in the VA it could spread to Defense, Treasury and other agencies. You can listen to her comments by clicking here.

Wednesday's column on the SES proposal prompted a number readers to comment. Some were outraged at what one of them said is "more of the GOP's anti-bureaucrat, anti-government mantra."

One reader-listener said he's known some SESers who needed disciplinary action. He said it might be wise to put term limits on SES appointees. He writes:

I do not disagree that SES employees need to be reminded that they are not gods even though there are some that don't act that way. But think of the process, the only way they leave is through retirement and then it is usually their last post (however long it is, where they want to retire). When reorganizations happen no one loses a job, their job title changes and they may move. When a position is created, there seems to already be the perfect person for the job already on board so no one new gets in the club. I watched a person without a degree move into an SES position in three moves and 10 years. They were so bad that they were basically fired from their first position, but had a friend who was an SES to move them along.

That said, yes we need people in those positions to make the tough calls and basically be in the civilian military service. In the military, you make a bad call and things happen to you personally. Make a multimillion dollar mistake at SES-level and the lower level employees have to live with it, a town may have to live with it or even the United States may have to live with it. Your good friend of 10 or 15 years at the agency has to do the punishment: Are they going to fire the SES person or end their career? No, not unless the press or a congressman knows what has happened. The SES person is already at the top, so if they cannot move up or down why worry about making bad calls, which brings them back to playing god.

So the question is: Should the SES position be time-limited to say eight years to avoid all these pitfalls? The president can run the country in four years. An SES should be able to run their agency for eight. — Seen Too Much


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