Admittance to SES shouldn’t entail 3rd degree

The federal hiring and promotion process, like, say, cosmic physics or Freemason rituals, may be impossible to fully comprehend externally. Especially what it takes to get into the Senior Executive Service.

SESers — those stalwart career feds who provide continuity, maturity, experience and institutional knowledge in a fast-moving world of politicians — have vexed the government lately. Remember when the hue and cry over morale and how to modernize the SES reached the point where President Barack Obama had a meeting with 3,000 of them at DAR Constitution Hall? That was back in 2014. The president announced a series of reforms to the SES. It conjured up special web sites, advisory boards, new accountability mechanisms, more lateral mobility for generalists, and an Armani suit allowance to compete with industry. Just kidding on that last item.

Then came the veterans’ care scandals of 2015. They launched an ongoing drama at the VA farm where Old McDonald can’t seem to figure out what to do with or about his SES corps.

VA notwithstanding, the White House, a year after the big powwow, followed through with an executive order for strengthening the SES. Somewhere in there is the idea of pruning the process for getting into it.

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Now OPM is telling agencies, specifically their Qualification Review Boards, to switch to what it calls a resume-based application method when considering promoting people to the SES level. It wants to cut back on long, written applications. Those are thought to be deterrents to good candidates. In a marvelous piece of circular syntax, OPM advises, “While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, agencies should seek to eliminate or minimize application requirements that may deter qualified candidates from applying, when it is possible to do so and still have a merit staffing process that can be validated.” Yeah,  gobbledygookish, but OPM is onto something.

I doubt a long application really deters GS-15s from trying to gain admittance to the SES. But it does seem odd for an experienced person, with a long record, to need more than a resume, a few solid references, and some interviews to move up just one notch. Plus, the longer the essay the more B.S. a candidate can work in.

If you want to become a doctor, actuary, certified public accountant, lawyer or any number of other professions, often the heavy lifting comes at the beginning of your career cycle. Once you pass a CPA set of exams, you may never have that difficult a test again. Surgeons have to get through med school, internships, and board exams for their particular specialty. After that they prove their pedigree through experience and hopefully not too many medical malpractice claims.

In business, your record and reputation get you to the door of the next level. Interviews and a sense of whether you fit take care of the rest. It’s also helpful not to have felony convictions.

No one deserves automatic elevation to the SES just for punching a clock for 20 or 25 years. Neither should promotion of the worthy entail weird rituals, like becoming a 32° Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret. So OPM is proposing something good here.

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