Testimony of the Comptroller General on the Impact of the Senior Executive Service

GGD-84-32: Published: Dec 30, 1983. Publicly Released: Dec 30, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO transmitted its detailed statement, which had been presented on November 7, 1983, on the results of its review of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and accompanying statistical data. The SES program was designed to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness of government operations and to: (1) hold executives accountable for government operations; (2) base executive compensation, retention, and tenure on executive performance; (3) provide agencies greater flexibility in executive use; (4) protect executives from improper political influence; and (5) improve managerial capabilities.

GAO found that agencies have implemented performance appraisal systems to assess individual performance, although these systems do not link to organizational performance. Agency plans also lack specific statements of expected performance. Over half of the executives interviewed felt that their agencies' performance appraisal systems had minimal effect on performance, had not improved communication, and were not worth the cost. These appraisals are used in bonus and award decisions. However, because the award of bonuses has been restricted, the act's motivational goal is not being achieved. GAO also found that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) oversight of agency management of executive resources may be lacking due to limitations of OPM authority and staff availability. Senior executives feel that they are not protected from arbitrary actions to the same extent that they were before the passage of the act and are concerned about geographic relocations. This concern may be lessened by proposed legislation which would increase relocation allowances. GAO found that the politicization safeguards specified in the act have been adhered to, and executive development programs have been well received. However, SES pay and benefits are not adequate to attract and retain top-quality managers from the private sector and make recruiting individuals from the technical and scientific fields difficult. GAO endorses raising the number of SES bonuses that can be awarded to increase the probability of maintaining a highly competent executive corps.

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