Senior Executive Service:

The Extent to Which SES Members Have Used the Sabbatical Program

GGD-88-90: Published: Aug 4, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1988.

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Bernard L. Ungar
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) sabbatical program for Senior Executive Service (SES) members to determine: (1) the costs of sabbaticals; (2) the positions to which SES members returned after their sabbaticals; (3) whether participants remained in federal service for at least 2 consecutive years after completing their sabbaticals, as required; and (4) whether agencies considered the program worthwhile.

GAO found that: (1) from July 1981 through May 1987, 15 of the 71 agencies interviewed had granted 21 sabbaticals; (2) sabbatical costs totalled over $1 million; (3) of the 20 participants who had completed sabbaticals as of May 19, 1987, 14 returned to the same positions and 6 went to different SES positions; (4) as of May 1988, seven participants had left either SES or the federal service after completing their sabbaticals, and two of those left within 2 years; (5) officials in 13 of the 15 agencies that granted sabbaticals said the sabbaticals benefited their agencies; (6) officials in 44 agencies said the participation level was appropriate, 16 said participation should be higher, and 11 had no response; and (7) the most frequently cited reasons for the low level of participation were that agencies could not spare additional SES members and few SES members expressed interest in the program.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The OPM Task Force on Executive and Management Development is developing new policy. OPM has taken action to make SES members more aware of the sabbatical program. OPM has included information on sabbaticals in a pamphlet distributed to all members of SES and have publicized some of the sabbaticals taken by SES members to generate interest in the program.

    Recommendation: The Director, OPM, should assess the sabbatical program's contribution to the development and effectiveness of SES members through study or work experience and as an incentive for recruitment and retention. The study should define what would constitute an appropriate level of use for the program and determine what can be done to reduce the level of attrition by SES members who have completed their sabbaticals. If OPM determines that participation should be increased, it should also assess how factors such as those identified in the GAO review are precluding SES members from participating.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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