Members of the federal Senior Executive Service (SES) are leaving government at an increasing rate, according to a new study, and they cite pay as one of the reasons.

A report released this week by George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy said ” in recent years, there has been a notable increase in the separation rate of SES members.”

The study, done by a group of graduate students in cooperation with the Senior Executives Association (SEA), said from fiscal 2009 to 2013, “the overall SES turnover rate increased from 7.2% to 9.8%, while the raw number of SES employees leaving government rose 44%.”

The researchers said  pay issues are often mentioned as “a disincentive for joining the Senior Executive Service and/or as a primary reason for separation from the federal government. While there has been a persistent gap in wages between SES positions and executive jobs in the private sector, the divide has widened in recent years partly due to government pay freezes and salary compression. As a result of pay caps on SES positions, there is a financial disincentive for GS-14s and GS-15s to apply for senior executive positions.”

GS-14 and GS-15 are at the top of the General Schedule personnel ranking system and are feeder grades to the SES.

Another major point of dissatisfaction cited among former SES members was “frustration with leadership,” including Congress and the president.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the SEA, said “the results of their study confirm many of SEA’s long-standing concerns about how inadequate compensation and appreciation for the contributions of career executives is accelerating the exodus of some of government’s most talented and needed leaders as well as discouraging interest among high-performing GS-14s and 15s in pursuing SES jobs in today’s environment. The current Congress and administration need to realize that politics as usual will only exacerbate these trends, with the net result being a growing brain drain that hurts our government and the American people it serves.”