SESers leaving due more to age, time than other factors

Friday - 6/27/2014, 5:44pm EDT

Pay freezes, budget cuts from sequestration and the suspension of awards programs have not been a major reason for members of the Senior Executive Service leaving government over the last five years.

Instead, a new report from the Senior Executive Association and the George Washington University's Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration found a majority of the reasons for a 10 percent decline in the SES workforce in each of the last three years is age and length of service.

The report stated, "[T] he majority of SES employees who have separated between 2009 and 2013 were non-early, voluntary retirees, suggesting that recent separations from the SES have been primarily due to an aging workforce, regardless of whether or not these separating employees were satisfied with their jobs."

GWU and SEA reviewed OPM data on why SES members were leaving government over between 2009 and 2013. The overall rate of SES leaving government grew from 7.2 percent in 2009 to 9.8 percent last year. The rate of SES members quitting as opposed to non-early retirement, however, increased slightly to 1.5 percent from 1.1 percent during that period.

"Of those who retired, 80 percent of the respondents did so within five years of attaining eligibility," the report stated. "Former SES employees who left prior to their optimal age for retirement most often cited 'frustration with leadership' as what most-contributed to their leaving. Former SES employees who left when first eligible cited the same reason, as well as 'frustration with the current administration and/or Congress and/or lack of progress within the federal government as a whole.'"

The authors also found SESers were leaving at a much lower rate initially than other non-SES feds, but by 2012 the percentage for both groups evened out at 10.3 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively.

The authors once again reiterated the concern over the pending "retirement wave" that is coming by 2016 where more than 33 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire, and 60 percent of the SES workforce.

OPM data has shown that the retirement wave has been more of a trickle. The latest data from May showed slightly fewer federal employees than expected filed for retirement in May — 8,400 compared to a projected 9,000. So far this, the pace of federal retirements is down compared to last year. In the first five months of 2014, OPM has received about 52,700 retirement applications, about 14,000 fewer than it received during the same period of time last year.

The Office of Personnel Management initiated exit surveys for SES members in 2013 to find out why they are leaving and what can be done about it. OPM said it hopes the surveys also will help agencies with retention and succession planning efforts.

The report authors offered four recommendations to decrease SES separations:

  • Encourage agencies to create internal incentives for baby boomers to continue working 1-to-5 years past their personally-optimal retirement date, such as issuing four-hour, time-off awards or recognizing the work of outstanding SES employees through internal processes.

  • Create SEA and internal incentives to make the SES more appealing to competitive GS-15 employees who would be potential SES candidates.

  • Lobby for locality pay for SES employees.

  • Create mentoring/training process for SES members, which could increase the quality and competition of applicants by better-preparing them to lead.

"The results of their study confirm many of SEA's long-standing concerns about how inadequate compensation and appreciation for the contributions of career executives is accelerating the exodus of some of government's most talented and needed leaders as well as discouraging interest among high-performing GS-14s and 15s in pursuing SES jobs in today's environment," said SEA president Carol Bonosaro in a release. "The current Congress and administration need to realize that politics as usual will only exacerbate these trends, with the net result being a growing brain drain that hurts our government and the American people it serves."

RELATED STORIES:

OPM slashes retirement backlog in first part of 2014

OPM searches for candid answers from departing SES members