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[Excerpt] The Senior Executive Service (SES) was established by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA; P.L. 95-454, 92 Stat. 1111). Congress created the SES to provide a government-wide, mobile corps of managers within federal agencies. The SES, comprising mostly career appointees who are chosen through a merit staffing process, is the link between the politically appointed heads of agencies and the career civil servants within those agencies. The creators of the SES envisioned it as a cadre of high-level managers in the government who would provide leadership for agencies across administrations and ensure productivity and efficiency within the government. The CSRA incentivized good performance among senior executives by basing their compensation on their performance.

Over the three decades of the SES’s operation, various ideas and suggestions have been offered as to how it may be improved. Although a few statutory changes have been implemented since its creation, many argue that the current state of the SES calls for more comprehensive reforms. The most recent change made to the SES was a revision of its pay system enacted in 2004. Advocates for additional changes to the SES argue that further changes would improve the efficiency and the management of government programs and the government workforce. Some of the changes they call for include improvement in recruiting efforts, more opportunities for onboard training and career development of senior executives, and further changes to the current pay structure.

This report provides a history and background of the SES, examines the central features of the SES, and discusses some areas in which advocates for SES reform have called for change.


Suggested Citation
Carey, M. P. (2012). The Senior Executive Service: Background and options for reform. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.