The Washington Post

Senior Executive Service officials tend to stay put


When the Senior Executive Service (SES) was formed in 1978 it was meant to be a corps of top federal civil servants who rotated among agencies in order to get a broad base of experience.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

A report scheduled for release Wednesday, says “almost half of the U.S. government’s 7,100 senior executives have stayed in the same position in the same organization their entire SES career. A mere 8 percent have worked at more than one agency during their SES tenure.”

The report, “Mission-Driven Mobility,” was prepared by the Partnership for Public Service and the consulting firm of McKinsey & Company.

It says rotation at the senior levels “allows individual agencies to build executive managerial skills, fill vacancies strategically and infuse new thinking into the organization.”

The report identifies barriers to shifting between agencies. It said the absence of a government-wide system to facilitate mobility is the biggest problem. The report offers suggestions for generating greater mobility, including creating incentives, such as “access to mentorship programs, sabbaticals, networking opportunities and financial rewards.”

Mobility is important, the report says, not just so the SES can be true to its original mission, but also “because greater executive mobility will improve the quality of the government’s leaders and, consequently, government performance.”

The Partnership has a content sharing relationship with The Washington Post.

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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