OPM to alleviate long-felt burdens on senior executive performance review process

The Office of Personnel Management helped agencies clear another administrative burden from their plates, this time aimed at simplifying the previously cumbersome process of approving senior executives’ performance.

OPM acting Director Margaret Weichert, who also serves as the Office of Management and Budget’s deputy director for management, announced a series of changes to the current performance appraisal certification process for the Senior Executive Service.

Starting early next year, agencies will no longer need to regularly certify their performance appraisal systems are up to par with OPM-led, time-intensive process. Instead, agencies can simply ask OPM to review their SES appraisal systems and use previously-submitted data to verify they’re working well.

Agencies will no longer need to submit actual SES performance evaluations as part of this review.

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“We believe these improvements will reduce agency burden by removing procedural hurdles and will better position OPM as a strategic adviser to agencies on improving employee performance management,” Weichert wrote in a Nov. 14 memo to department and agency heads.

Every agency measures their progress in a different way, and many organizations have “well-established policies” and “extensive experience” in this field, OPM said. Weichert said this new guidance is based on agency feedback, and it gives organizations the freedom to use their own expertise.

Specifically, OPM’s new guidance also gives agencies the flexibility to show they’re compensating senior executives differently with a combination of both performance-based awards and pay. Previously, agencies had to differentiate between awards and pay.

“Senior employees who have demonstrated the highest levels of individual performance and/or contribution to the agency’s performance must receive the highest annual summary ratings and the largest corresponding performance-based pay adjustments and performance awards,” additional guidance reads.

Currently, agencies must submit a large swath of documents and actual SES appraisals to demonstrate to OPM that their senior executives are meeting set performance metrics.

It was often a lengthy reporting process that took time for agencies to complete.

“The certifications would lapse while OPM was trying to figure out if they were in compliance,” Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, said. “That would mean that executives were not eligible for pay increases or other considerations that are given to certified agencies.”

SEA and other organizations have been working with OPM to find ways the agency can address the “low-hanging fruit” with the Senior Executives Service. They’re seeking changes to the SES that OPM can accomplish now or in the near future that don’t require a major congressional effort.

A list of approved agency SES appraisal systems on OPM’s website hasn’t been updated since December 2016. But the data at the time showed 64 percent of agencies had certified SES appraisals from OPM. Most agencies in late 2016 had systems that were due to expire in late 2017 or 2018.

Agencies can begin submitting certification requests under the new process on Jan. 7, 2019, Weichert said. Agencies that have expiring certification systems between now and January can also transition to the new process.

The new process will allow OPM to move from the position of a “process nanny” to more of a strategic human capital partner, Valdez said. With OPM no longer confined to the lengthy process of simply re-certifying agencies, it will have more time to spend on actually making sure senior executives are helping their agencies meet mission goals.

“The intent is to allow the agencies to develop evidence that is aligned with their mission accomplishments, which is the way it should be,” Valdez said. “The performance of the executives needs to be tied to their ability to accomplish the mission of the agency. If they can demonstrate that, that’s sufficient proof.”

OPM’s new guidance on SES appraisal systems is its latest attempt to remove long reporting requirements and unnecessary human capital burdens for agencies.

OPM in late October proposed new regulations that essentially removed itself from the process agencies follow to request direct-hire authority for some IT positions. Earlier this fall, it finalized two  separate direct-hire authorities and announced its intention to create special occupational pay and classification systems.

For SEA, OPM’s latest effort to reduce burdens for senior executives pulls on multiple priorities within the President’s Management Agenda.

“This is the first tangible evidence of the implementation of the PMA,” Valdez said. “The PMA has at its core building the workforce of the future and using data analytics to make decisions, and that’s exactly what this is about.”