Starting Nov. 15, the Office of Personnel Management will begin accepting applications for a special government-wide recruitment program designed to broaden opportunities for minorities, women and people with disabilities to become federal executives.

The Senior Executive Service Federal Candidate Development Program, or Fed CDP, will prepare people for leadership jobs in government through rotational assignments, mentoring and performance assessments, OPM said.

The program has been in the works since April 2003, when OPM Director Kay Coles James announced that she would take steps to improve diversity in the Senior Executive Service, the government's corps of senior managers and technical experts who oversee day-to-day operations at many agencies.

As of June, the SES had 7,078 members, including political appointees. Of that total, 14.7 percent were minorities and 26.6 percent were women, according to data provided yesterday by OPM.

"The Fed CDP will work to carry on the great tradition of the Senior Executive Service, while increasing access for a wider diversity of candidates," James said in a statement.

From a snapshot of the SES taken in October 2000, the Government Accountability Office has projected that 55 percent of SES members will leave federal service by Oct. 1, 2007.

GAO also projected that the so-called feeder ranks for the SES would be shrinking -- with 47 percent of General Schedule 15 employees and 34 percent of GS-14 employees retiring or resigning.

If recent hiring patterns continued, GAO said, the mixture of racial and ethnic minorities in the SES would remain mostly unchanged. The only significant increase would be in the number of white women, who will replace the predominantly white male SES members as they retire, GAO said.

Gilbert Sandate, chairman of the Coalition for Fairness for Hispanics in Government, said agencies, which will bear much of the program's cost, will control which applicants are selected for training and then promoted into the SES. To achieve fair representation, he suggested that OPM and the agencies work together to ensure that minorities serve on screening panels and that they set goals for minority participation in the program.

"On its face, this is a terrific program, and we applaud the focus and intent," Sandate said. "We are concerned with the working parameters and who is in charge."

In testimony before the House civil service subcommittee a year ago, OPM associate director Ronald P. Sanders said the new program would adhere to rules that require fair and open competition for federal jobs.

"Can we absolutely guarantee that our program will improve diversity in the SES? No, we cannot," Sanders said at the hearing. "However, we can and will do everything we possibly can to ensure that its applicant pool truly reflects America's diversity."

More than 100 organizations, including numerous veterans groups, have been told that OPM will begin accepting applications for the Fed CDP this month, the agency said in its statement.

Time to Vote

With polls open until 7 p.m. in Virginia and 8 p.m. in the District and Maryland, most federal employees in the Washington area should not need to request time off to vote today, officials said.

But agency managers can grant excused absences for employees to vote, especially those on staggered schedules, to ease rush-hour congestion.

Under federal policy, managers are permitted to grant limited amounts of excused absence in places where the polls are not open for at least three hours before or after the employee's normal work schedule. In the Washington area, that means some employees would be eligible for 15 minutes to 45 minutes of time off for voting, officials said.

For you early birds, Virginia polls open at 6 a.m. and Maryland and D.C. polls open at 7 a.m.

Diary Live

Walton Francis, an economist and the principal author of Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, will take questions and comments about enrollment options in the 2005 federal employee health insurance program at noon tomorrow on Federal Diary Live at www.washingtonpost.com. Please join us.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com