The Senior Executive Service, created as part of President Jimmy Carter’s Civil Service Reform Act, has survived — at times thrived — under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Donald Trump. There are approximately 7,200 career SES who make between $123,175 and $185,100.
The best days for career members of the SES may have been during the one term of President George H.W. Bush. Bush was a Washington insider, knew how the bureaucracy works and, early in his administration, gave a pep talk to thousands of SES members at DAR Constitution Hall. One executive who was there said it was a moving, from-the-heart address “and people would have died for him!”
President Reagan’s team dealing with federal personnel matters was highly suspicious of civil servants. With some exceptions, political appointees, particularly during his first term, kept the career SES team at arm’s length. President Reagan did, however, personally meet on several occasions with career SES who earned, through sustained extraordinary accomplishment, the Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive, the highest civilian honor reserved for 1 percent of career SES and SL/ST annually.
Bill Clinton went from being governor of a relatively small southern state to president of the United States. He and many top aides were shocked at the high (compared to Little Rock) salaries of government employees. One of his first actions was to cancel the first raise due to white-collar federal workers under the FEPCA law. It was designed to close the pay gap between the government and private sector on a year-by-year, city-by-city basis.
The FEPCA law was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican (George H.W. Bush) president. It was supposed to take the politics and controversy out of annual federal pay raises. But Clinton proposed a pay freeze until economic times got better. He later proposed a zero pay raise on the grounds that it would hurt the economic boom that was taking place. President George W. Bush followed Clinton’s pay-raise practice, attempting each year to reduce the automatic raises proposed by FEPCA.
The Senior Executive Association is part of the Federal-Postal Coalition and the Government Managers Coalition that are fighting to block proposed cuts in the civil service retirement benefits. And it is monitoring how the career SES is reacting to, and being treated by, Trump administration political appointees. There are reports that senior careerists at the Departments of State and Interior are being kept out of the loop or reshuffled.
SEA is also in the midst of an organizational transition, having announced a new strategic direction earlier this year, expanded opportunities for GS 12-15 feds to participate in SEA activities and network with SEA members, and new programs and initiatives, including new Communities of Change and a recently completed governmentwide State of Career Senior Leadership Survey.
Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show, we will talk with SEA President Bill Valdez about how things are going for the SES and SEA. You can listen on WFED 1500 AM in the D.C. area or anywhere at federalnewsradio.com.