Handpicked cabinet members of the new Senior Executive Service (SES) can get bonuses and awards of up to $19,000 next June in addition to their regular $47,889 to $50,112 salaries.
Winners of the agency-level bonus races must clear a series of performance appraisal hurdles within their own departments. Poltical and career officials will be the judges. Those who try for the top SES honors -- special one-year ranks, and $10,000 to $20,000 stipends -- must pass muster from the Office of Personnel Management. It runs the bureaucracy for the President.
Although the "paper" value of awards and bonuses exceeds $30,000, congressional limits on pay put the actual maximum payout at around $20,000.
SES is the elite corps of career and political executives created as part of the President's civil service reform act. One of its major goals was to give top political appointees the power to reward outstanding executives and to reassign, demote or dismiss others without regular civil service "red tape."
One of the plus features of the SES for its 8,000-plus members is a system of agency awards -- worth up to 20 percent of salary, and special titles that carry $10,000 to $20,000 stipends.
Only career members of the SES are eligible for the cash awards. Nominations for the first awards are already coming in, and most of them will be cleared and approved by June.
At the agency level, SES members who excel in the eyes of their top bosses can be given special bonuses of up to 20 percent of salary. the only limit is that no employe can get more, in regular pay and bonuses, than the $69,630 rate for Cabinet officers.
In addition to agency and departmental awards, SES members can earn the title of "meritorious executive" or "distinguished executive." They carry a one-time stipend of $10,000 and $20,000 respectively. Those ranks can be given to individuals only once every 5 years.
By law only 1 percent of the SES workforce (between 80 and 90 executives) may get the top award. Up to 5 percent of the 8,000 SES members could be rated "meritorious" and get $10,000.
The Office of Personnel Management will play a major role in selecting "meritorious" and "distinguished" executives from names submitted by individual federal agencies and departments. Officials anticipate that a "blue ribbon" panel of OPM executives, career and non-career and people from outside government, will decide who is worthy of the $10,000 and $20,000 awards and ranks. Those who pass muster will be recommended to the White House. President Carter plans to personally give out the honors, including special letters of commendation and a pin for lapel or blouse.
OPM officials said selections will be made strictly on the basis of merit, although political appointees will have a major say to who gets nominated and who is picked for the top honors.
Although it is conceivable that an executive could win a 20 percent bonus from his or her agency and a $20,000 "distinguished" award in the same year, total pay couldn't exceed the rate for a Cabinet officer. For an employe earning $50,000, for example, the maximum he or she could get from any award or awards would be a little over $19,000.