Senior Executive Service (SES)

The Senior Executive Service (SES) was created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. Congress designed the SES to be an elite corps of managers charged with running the Federal Government. The SES was set up as a separate, gradeless personnel system - distinct from the competitive and excepted services - whose positions are classified above the GS-15 level of the General Schedule.

An executive may enter the SES as a career appointee, noncareer appointee, or limited term appointee. Status as a career appointee affords an SES member specific due process protections. Careerists make up the great majority of the Army's SES. Noncareer executives, on the other hand, serve at the discretion of the appointing authority.

Incumbents of SES positions are held accountable for program accomplishment. Those who are successful may be rewarded; those who are not may be removed from the SES. Unique to the SES program is that management officials may nominate career members whose performance is exceptional for at least three years for one of two types of Rank Awards conferred by the President: Distinguished Executive for which the individual receives a lump sum payment of 35 percent of base pay, or Meritorious Executive for which the individual recives 20 percent of base pay.

In the Army, senior executives are the counterparts of general officers. Some occupy the Department's top civilian management jobs, serving in positions within the sustaining base that would otherwise be filled by general officers. Others are the scientific and technical experts on whom the Army depends to achieve and sustain technical supremacy.

Senior executives - like general officers - are found mainly in policy-making positions, or in technical areas such as acquisition, research and development, logistics, civil works, and the like. Most SES members serve in the Secretariat (22%), Army Materiel Command (32%), and the Corps of Engineers (17%). From a functional perspective, the Engineers and Scientists career field accounts for over one-half of the Army's total SES population. Similarly, over half of SES positions are concentrated in the National Capital Region.

Appointments to the career SES are based on merit principles and are subject to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approval. OPM-convened Qualification Review Boards certify the executive management abilities of first-time appointees to the SES by measuring their experience and accomplishments against five criteria: (1) Leading Change; (2) Leading People; (3) Results Driven; (4) Business Acumen; and (5) Building Coalitions/Communication. These executive core qualifications are viewed as essential to successful executive performance.

Senior systems above the GS-15 or equivalent level include:

The Senior Level (SL) system is for non-executive positions above grade 15 that do not meet the criteria for the SES, nor do they involve the fundamental research and development responsibilities that are characteristic of the Scientific/Professional (ST) system. Examples might include a high level special assistant position to a political appointee or a senior attorney in a highly-specialized field that does not meet the criteria for a managerial, supervisory or policy advisory position. Army does not currently have any SL positions.

The Scientific and Professional (ST) system covers non-executive positions classified and compensated above the grade 15 level that involve performance of high-level research and development in the physical, biological, chemical, medical, or engineering sciences, or a closely-related field. They typically support weapons platforms and combat support systems. All ST positions are in the competitive service.

Other senior civilian personnel systems include the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service (DISES) and Defense Intelligence Senior Level (DISL) systems. Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 83, Subchapter I, Section 1606, Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service allows the Secretary of Defense to establish a DISES for defense intelligence positions. Generally, the DISES system is comparable to the SES, while the DISL system may be compared to the SL/ST systems.

Some Laboratory Demonstration Projects may include positions that are covered by pay bands above GS-15 equivalency.

Finally, there are other senior system civilians such as judges from the Armed Services Board of Contract appeals, and Political Appointees (PAS - Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation).

For more information about SES, see the SES web pages at CPOL

Content last reviewed: 6/8/2006-SWL


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This page was last revised: 6/8/2006