SESers honored for distinguished service, saving $94B in 2012

Friday - 4/26/2013, 5:40am EDT

Carol Bonosaro, president, Senior Executives Association

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Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Senior Executive Service honored many of its unsung heroes Thursday night at the 28th annual Distinguished Presidential Rank Awards ceremony.

But one part of the government where a lot of innovation and extraordinary work happens was not there to be recognized. No intelligence community representatives attended last night's Senior Executives Association event, and the lack of communication from the White House about why is frustrating, said Carol Bonosaro, SEA president.

"We always welcomed the intelligence community awardees, but this year, as I understand, the intelligence community never received approval from the White House for their nominations so they have been in limbo, and it's really inexplicable to me," Bonosaro said. "There are a decent number and we would very much have liked to have them with us tonight, but no one got any word from the White House. This was a very long time after they should've been informed."

She said the number of awardees is down by about one-third for fiscal 2012 to about 46, representing 17 agencies and the three military services. Only about 1 percent of all senior executive service members are eligible to win the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award. The award is recognition for efforts above and beyond the call of duty, and includes a 35 percent lump sum bonus based on their rate of pay.

Combined, the winners of the award helped the government save or avoid spending $94 billion in 2012, despite the fact it's among the lowest number of awardees in the 34-year history of the recognition.

Bonosaro said she's reached out to the White House for more information on what is taking so long to review the intelligence community's nominations, but she hasn't heard back.

More winners are coming

A request to the White House for comment wasn't returned.

An ODNI official, who requested anonymity in order to speak more freely, said the White House is reviewing Distinguished Presidential Rank Award nominations and decisions should be made in a matter of weeks. The official said the White House couldn't get the nominations through the process fast enough to be included Thursday night with so much going on in the intelligence community. The official emphasized that just because the intelligence community didn't send anyone to the event, it doesn't mean employees will not be recognized for extraordinary work.

Even though no intelligence community senior executives were honored last night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper served as the event's main speaker, offering insights from his 50-year public service career.

Clapper encouraged SES members to think beyond their organization and the impact they could have on the rest of the government.

"I encourage intelligence community senior executives to think this way," he said. "You have to reach across the organizational lines to take advantage of the diversity of the people and their ideas."

Clapper emphasized the need not just to lead, but to mentor the next generation.

"Don't do your subordinates work for them even if you know you can do it better and faster," he said. "It's better to delegate and let them learn to make decisions."

And, when senior executives get good employees who have mastered their expectations, Clapper said the hardest thing is to let them go and help another organization get better.

"Don't forget what got you here. Speak truth to power. Listen to your people and stay calm under pressure," he said. "Be kind because it goes a long way. You are all motivated by public service and answered the call a long time ago and stayed with it to improve the welfare of the American people. Take pride in knowing you had an impact and selflessly made a difference for the country."

Clapper's words of wisdom are embodied across the winners, including John Thompson, the Veterans Affairs Department's deputy general counsel, who won his third Presidential Rank award Thursday night.

(Entertainment at the ceremony was provided by the Naval Academy Skivs. Story continues below video.)

Morale has taken a hit

Bonosaro said for many of the SESers receiving the rank award is part of a capstone to a long and accomplished career. That's, in part, why she's frustrated with the lack of response and attention from the White House on the intelligence community's nominations.

"The honor itself means much more than the stipend attached to it," she said. "I think it is part of a pattern of seemingly not understanding that you really have to keep the best, the brightest, the most able and experienced executives at a time like this when government is facing such challenges," she said. "The administration ought to be celebrating these people instead of using the budget, and I don't minimize the budget concerns, we really need to make a better effort. What we are seeing, I think, is a greater number of senior executives retiring. I think there's just been too much piled on in many cases."