Is the Senior Executive Service Viable? – Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978 – SES ‘Vision’ Never Realized – Spoils System Leads To Incompetence

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The Senior Executive Service (SES) was established by Title IV of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978 (P.L. 95-454, October 13, 1978) and became effective on July 13, 1979. The CSRA envisioned a Senior Executive Service whose members have shared values, a broad perspective of government, and solid executive skills. Its stated purpose was to “ensure that the executive management of the Government of the United States is responsive to the needs, policies, and goals of the nation and otherwise is of the highest quality.”

“The original vision of the Senior Executive Service (SES) was never realized. Most importantly, we find that the original vision itself is inadequate for today’s needs and does not provide the blueprint to build the kind of senior government leadership required for the future.” —Unrealized Vision, Booz/Allen/Hamilton

Please see references to Booz Allen Hamilton
‘Paperclip Passport’ Service – Special Weapons and Tactics Teams – The Grooming of Barry Soetoro – SOS Villages in Pakistan – Al-Qaeda Takes The Fall


Is the Senior Executive Service Viable?

Frank D. Ferris; Journal Title: Public Personnel Management. Volume: 18. Issue: 3. Publication Date: Fall, 1989.

This article traces the political history of the federal sector Senior Executive Service, evaluates the current SES structure, [approximately 7,000 SES positions in grades over GS14 just below the presidential level at the head of all federal agencies including the FBI with salaries up to $179,700 per year] and offers some observations as to whether it is viable given the political forces with which it must deal. [What is the effects of politics and power on the organizational commitment of federal executives in the Senior Executive Service re 9/11?] Predictions are made then made as to how the SES will change in the future.

The Senior Executive Service (SES), the system used to manage the senior executives of the federal government has many critics and few proponents. [Abel Danger is the biggest critic of the Senior Executive Service; it is alleged that VideoGuard-encrypted images of the JonBenet Ramsey ‘Nutcracker’ murder were used to extort top officials in the Senior Executive Service and Norman Mineta and have them support what Abel Danger refers to as the Matrix 5 man-in-the-middle propaganda attacks on 9/11] Since its inception, it has had to endure high attrition rates, low morale, system contradictions which allow subordinates to be paid more than their superiors, and even lawsuits by the executives against the government.

All of this turmoil repeatedly brings to the surface of public debate the different question of whether the SES is a viable program. [the SES organization is no longer viable for the reason the SES displays the age old axiom that those in power stay in power by reinforcing the existing structure of the organization, therefore the SES is no longer based on merit but rather on the spoils system thus effectively opening up the SES for criticism for what happened on 9/11] However, there is no easy answer and no single criterion of success. One measure might be the 14 purposes of the program that are listed in the law.(1) Yet most will agree that the stated statutory purpose often is only indirectly connected to the real reason the program was established. For example, Alan Campbell, who as President Carter’s Civil Service Commission chairman was the primary designer of the SES program, discreetly suggested after the passage of the bill that the real and unstated purpose of the statute was to loosen the “iron triangle alliance” which existed among career bureaucrats, congressional committees, and interest groups. [no longer should service to the SES and employment be based on “a desire to serve the public interest”, “loyalty to duty and to the government as a whole”, and “social equity”; to survive it is suggested the SES system needs to move to a system of meritocracy] This break up was supposed to increase the ability of the White House to change the direction of the government.(2) Consequently, it is difficult to measure the success of SES against the prescribed statutory purposes.

Other measures are just as likely to be unsatisfying. There is not enough agreement on the goals of public administration [a very difficult and complex premise when this bureaucracy has essentially become a self-inflating bureaucratic structure based on power, status, prestige under the often misunderstood image the public has of the ‘government’] to use them as a barometer. Objective research findings are instructive, but almost never persuasive. Even the opinions and interests of those who work with SES members will, at best, only be treated as interesting and informative.

In recognition of this measurement problem, this analyzes data from a variety of sources to develop an understanding of the nature and impact of the SES program; it’s successes and failures. [one of the SES’s biggest failures is that the SES is top heavy with retired and former military personnel staying within the civil government and SES umbrella because as stated: “they enjoy the work, they want to have an impact on public affairs, the retirement system, and job security, current annual and sick leave benefits.”] Included also are comments about its current viability, and some predictions about its future.

History of the Senior Executive Service

The founders and early officials of our government seem to have paid little attention to the role of the appointed official in the Executive Branch. [this is because these bureaucracies have all subsequently been organized as corporations under the federal government] Immediately after the passage of the Constitution, Congress authorized the establishment of the five original administrative agencies. [these agencies have expanded to hundreds of various agencies/corporations] The simplicity of those statutes indicates the rather naive view Congress had of the federal bureaucracy. There were virtually no controls on the power of the President to fill these positions. It was not until President Jackson broke with tradition and implemented the spoils system that it became clear these positions could not be treated lightly by Congress.

The spoils system continued to dominate federal sector personnel management until 1883. At that time, the stress it created became so great that Congress passed the Pendleton Act. It called for the appointment to positions by competitive examinations, a geographic balance among those appointed, freedom from political pressure, and a limited form of tenure.(3) In short, it overrode the spoils system with a form of merit selection.

It is important to recognize the basic forces underlying the evolution of a federal executive service. Jackson’s bold move was a clear reminder of the role the separation of powers plays in the management of the bureaucracy. Absent constraints by Congress, the President has a degree of freedom to steer the executive personnel system. From the earliest times, Congress and the President have been rivals for power, and there is no reason to believe they will stop anytime soon.

During this early period, there was an apparent tension between neutrality and patronage in our federal personnel system. American political parties are built upon the patronage system. To the extent it is expected that Executive Branch positions are to be filled with neutral, career appointees who must possess a great degree of technical specialization, the patronage opportunities for the party in the White House virtually disappear. Moreover, Congress gains power because it can build long term relationships with bureaucrats who are not beholding to the President. These relationships are then used to check the White House.

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  • The original Civil Service system incorporated in the Pendleton Act of 1883 was developed through a three-year, extensive international search and review process initiated in the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. President Garfield, who succeeded Hayes, was assassinated after 200 days. The Pendleton Act, which codified the work done during the Hayes Administration, was signed by President Chester A. Arthur, also a reform-minded President.

    The 1978 "Reforms" incorporated in the CSRA were developed by an antithesis of the careful review conducted for the Pendleton Act -they responded to President Carter's desire to have a free-floating cadre of executives to put his initiatives into effect. Their remuneration could be based on their effectiveness in doing the Federal Executive's bidding – not serving as qualified and dedicated public servants as the founders of the Pendleton Act envisaged. Concerns about about the corruption potential of the CSRA were already revealed by polls of SES staff in 1978. Fred Ferris confirms that " SES is no longer based on merit but rather on the spoils system".

    This is one of multiple self-inflicted wounds that the United States has suffered since World War II. The solutions will begin to come when, as it did in the Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, the U.S. again studies the experience of other advanced nations as a part of its political management.