New leadership at the Senior Executives Association

In a workforce of about two million, the federal government has only about 8,000 members in the senior executive service. A small number, but crucial, they are ...

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In a workforce of about two million, the federal government has only about 8,000 members in the senior executive service. A small number, but crucial, they are the main buffers and translators between the political appointees and the rank-and-file who actually do the work of government. Now the Senior Executives Association has a new board chairman. He retired last year as senior executive advisor to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin has a chance to talk with Marcus Hill.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: You were a senior executive for a long time, and I guess it never really leaves you even though you’ve been out of government for about a year. At this point in 2022, leading into 2023, some turmoil in the country. What’s your sense of the big concerns now for the senior executives? What’s top of mind for them in their careers right now, do you think?

Marcus Hill: I know for the Senior Executive Association, we’re really focused on putting together our agenda for the new administration. And when one of the focal points of that agenda is going to be Schedule F, and really trying to ensure that we’re not in a situation where career executives as well as those that would be impacted by the initiation of a Schedule F appointee, would never date our career workforce. So that’s really what our focus has been on. Our political adviser, Jason Rifle has been at the tip of the spear, working with our policy committee, as well as our partners to really, hopefully, hold the forces that support that initiative, off and really just kind of continue with our current model of good government.

Tom Temin: Is the fear that with Schedule F, that would mostly apply to senior executives, and they could almost become the fall guys for what happens in an administration, even though they’re not politically appointed, but they could in effect, be treated that way.

Marcus Hill: Yeah, I see that as sort of a hybrid Schedule C appointment. So obviously, career executives are in place to ensure continuity. And I say we and even though I’m retired, I’ll still say we were focused on serving the American people daily, making sure that we provide the services that are expected of the federal government. And so to keep that cadre of career executives in place is really paramount to, I believe, our ability to provide that service to the American people.

Tom Temin: And beyond the Schedule F threat. And I guess there is a legislative gambit going on to kill that idea forever. And so presumably, you’re supporting that one. But what are the issues? I mean, there’s always been the issue of do SES members have sufficient training of themselves for leadership, the idea of the portability of the senior executive, versus the singular mission focus, that kind of thing. Do those issues come up?

Marcus Hill: They do. And as a matter of fact, our association a couple of months ago, began updating our strategic plan. And I’m happy to announce that we’ll be unveiling that in the coming weeks. And one of the pinnacles of strategic priorities within that plan is to focus on providing better professional development opportunities for current senior executives, as well as aspiring leaders. So we’ve actually contracted with a company to help us really identify content around five buckets that we’ve established that we’re going to provide those opportunities to our members in the upcoming year.

Tom Temin: And those buckets are?

Marcus Hill: Leading change, leading people, results driven, business acumen and building coalitions.

Tom Temin: All right, and let me ask you this. That’s focusing on the SES and on the workforce. What’s your best advice for political appointees that are coming in? We’re halfway through an administration, now, this is a time when people tend to leave and a fresh set of appointees comes in for the second half. And so a lot of the your former colleagues will now be having new political leadership. What should SES people say, to the incoming polits? To make sure everything works out well?

Marcus Hill: Well, I would recommend to incoming political C appointees to really value those career SES that are in their organizations, understanding that the political, Schedule C appointees have an agenda, but those folks within those positions in the career realm are apolitical. They take pride in that, and they really just want to fulfill the mission of the organization. So really incorporate them early on, share the agenda with them, and get them involved in terms of trying to figure out how to fulfill the administration’s agenda.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Marcus Hill. He’s chairman of the board of the Senior Executives Association. And while we have you tell us a little bit about your own career because you have a long one in the federal government and several jobs.

Marcus Hill: Yeah, so and I’ll let’s do it in a snippet of my federal career began back in 1983, when I was selected by the Department of the Navy to participate in this first Federal Junior fellowship Program at Naval submarine base kings base so I started out as a co-op student, if you will, GS-2 within the civilian personnel department, in which I worked during my holiday periods and summers while I was in college. So, at the end of college, I actually accepted the commission in the United States Air Force. But before I left, I was able to fulfill a career appointment and get status within the civil service. So I went off, I did a military furlough came back to civil service and literally began to move around the Department of Defense, I worked for the Department of Navy, the Department of the Air Force, had an opportunity to go up to Norfolk, Virginia and work for the Navy, in human capital, there were served as a labor relations person and employee relations specialist. And then I just kind of migrated back down south to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay became the head of the workforce relations program there and just started moving around a little bit. And I’m happy to say I was able to sort of transition from the human capital career field and kind of broad my experiences, worked with the Transportation Security Administration, and ultimately was able to settle in to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which I spent about, I want to say about 15 years or so in that organization. And again, I was privileged to oversee one of their major portfolios, their mission support portfolio, which basically encompassed all of those programs that supported the law enforcement training mission. So with that, in 2021, I decided to retire after 37 and a half years. And so with that, I just wanted to become more active within the Senior Executive Association, which I’ve been a member of since 2006. And there you have it in terms of what has inspired me to take on his chairmanship.

Tom Temin: And starting out as a GS-2, there’s not a lot of beer money leftover at the end of the week is there?

Marcus Hill: There was absolutely none. Absolutely none.

Tom Temin: Better to rise through the ranks. And just a final question, you would advise young people to enter federal service?

Marcus Hill: Yes, I would definitely advise young people to enter federal service. As a matter of fact, I’ve got three children, myself, two of them. One is in college right now one’s just fresh out of college. And my wife and I, my wife is actually a civil servant as well. We’re sort of trying to steer those two younger ones into government service, because not just because of the benefits and so forth associated with government. But it just gives you an opportunity to serve and my family to include my parents. My dad was a retired Army two tour Vietnam combat veteran, and we come from a family of service. So I would really advise young people to consider government service because it’s good service. And just to close, I’m a guy from one caution light town in Southeast Georgia. This started out as a GS-2 and through civil service I was able to serve in many agencies, many locations, have many experiences and a career that culminated in being recognized as a 2017 Presidential Rank Award recipient. Not too bad from a guy that grew up across the tracks and a trailer on a dirt road.

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