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GS-15 Considering SES?

Why don’t more seasoned professionals at the GS-15 level make the jump to the Senior Executive Service (SES)? For many, moving into SES doesn’t add up. For instance, they may get less pay and more responsibilities without significantly increased support. The following list outlines the cons many potential candidates see as barriers.

SES members don’t make appreciably more than the highest paid GS-15 in the greater Washington D.C. area and other areas with high costs of living.

The fiscal year 2020 pay tables, available at OPM.gov, show that a GS-15, step 10 with D.C. area locality pay, totals $170,800.

On the other hand, the lowest level SES job on the Executive Schedule (EX) scale has a pay of $160,100. One level up, level 4, merits $170,800.

When you make the transition to the SES scale, you lose locality pay. SES jobs in lower-cost living areas may be more beneficial from a pay perspective, but few exist. Worse still, first-year SES members are generally not eligible for bonuses. If your first year as a SES member happens to be a year in which Congress grants a pay increase larger than 1%, you may make less than a GS-15, step 10.

Demands on time are significantly greater.

With greater titles, comes greater responsibility. We all expect to take on more work as we move up the pay scale, but when making the jump to SES, you lose the ability to earn compensatory or credit hours. While your carryover cap jumps to 720 hours, one must consider if banking all those hours is worth the stress required to earn them.

SES members are required to manage more people without significantly more support.

While SES candidates must have supervisory experience, the quality of that experience varies greatly. SES members generally supervise large organizations, which means significant performance management duties, as well as an obligation to motivate, retain, recruit and set strategic goals for personnel.

While human resources organizations support these functions, their missions are largely associated with managing transactions — hiring, performance appraisal systems, timekeeping — not strategic planning. While some organizations emphasize human capital strategy, most government agencies do not. For candidates with little HR experience, this HR planning work requires substantial thought and training.

SES’ career appointment occurs only after one full year in the job.

SES members have a probationary period, just like new General Schedule (GS) employees. By law, the permanent appointment may only occur after one year and a satisfactory assessment of their performance. Moving from GS to SES means risking termination if the individual’s performance fails to meet established standards.

SES members are literally “further restricted.”

Based on the Hatch Act, which outlines the limitations on federal employees in participating in certain political activities, SES members are considered “further restricted” employees. This means even during off-duty hours, SES cannot engage in most partisan political activity. They may still vote, of course, but their ability to publicly express sentiments about candidates is restricted.

SES must disclose significant personal financial information.

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics mandates financial disclosures for SES not required for GS employees unless they serve in specific capacities requiring such reports (for example, contracting offers).

If weighing the decision to apply for SES, these issues must be considered along with the obvious benefits. The benefits include expanded reach and influence, the ability to solve major problems facing your agency or department, potential for larger bonuses after one year, a responsibility to lead and the intangible rewards that come along with it, and the ability to leverage knowledge and relationships gained over a long career in a positive way to support programs and, ultimately, Americans.

Love Rutledge hosts the FedUpward Podcast (FedUpward.com), a show for feds to find tips and strategies to navigate everyday problems. She has 20 years of government service, a master’s in public administration from the George Washington University and a Master of Science in defense resource management from the Eisenhower School at the National Defense University. She’s also a wife and mother of two preschoolers. Opinions expressed are hers and not those of the government.

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