Federal Employment: A Career Path to Distinction or Extinction?

Summary:  A Proposal to Improve the Senior Executive Service


The implementation of a modified Senior Executive Service would require program participants, in exchange for a substantial salary increase,  to agree to immediate and lengthy assignments  in a wide and varying number of venues. The  venues would, for example, include addressing the continuing immigration issues at our southern borders. A key component of the new  SES is its budget neutral foundation which could provide for a  tripling of the salaries of each SES member for a defined time period and also require the acceptance of the  maximum interagency mobility. In order to finance the program without increasing the size of the federal debt the program could be financed by  reducing the number of individuals in  the SES by two-thirds.  Budget neutrality is the driving force and it is recognized that it  can be accomplished in any number of ways and the approach presented herein is only one such measure; for example a SES Strike Force could be established, with a reduced salary from the aforementioned level, pursuant to existing law but the needed financial incentives would have to be explored on a government-wide basis.  However in doing so it should be noted that  there are less than 700 Generals in the US military and more than 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service and the military has demonstrated that reductions of the aforementioned magnitude will allow for the continuance  of a viable organization. 



I had the good fortune of attending a meeting of the OMB Alumni Association. The customary protocol is to have a presentation by former employees interspersed with the opportunity to exchange experiences shared while working  within  OMB.

I entered federal service as a commissioned US Army combat engineer. I then moved to serve in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff followed by an appointment to the Office of the Secretary of the Army eventually serving as  a career federal employee at  OMB.  At OMB I served as the Assistant Director where I led the Office of Regulatory and Information Policy, the precursor to OIRA.

What I had anticipated as a five year federal career turned into a twenty year commitment because of my interest in spearheading a movement to have OMB exercise the same control over regulations as it did financial expenditures. My workday began around 8 AM and ended around 8 PM followed by an hour long bus ride to my residence.

How things change.  During the course of the OMB Alumni event I inquired as to  how OMB was addressing the work-at-home phenomenon. I was advised that the major issue is whether there is a two or three day mandatory requirement for  working in the office. Whatever the outcome of this discussion I am of the opinion its ultimate resolution might have to address several underlying economic consequences be they positive or negative and consequently they should be evaluated in detail.

The difference between now and then  is that a family could live on one federal salary allowing one parent to raise the family in the presence of an absentee parent. This is no longer the case. In the absence of pay raises for the Senior Executive Service I am of the opinion we are on the path of the government being run by federal contractors because, with the exception of a small group of dedicated individuals; those high producing individuals who wish to have a stay-at-home parent cannot exist on  a single federal salary and often migrate to higher paying government contractor jobs.

Private sector firms who comply with federal regulations could be placed at an economic disadvantage if the federal regulatory regime is governed by the actions of government contractors in lieu of regulated federal employees.

I have made repeated recommendations to address the problem by implementing a budget neutral recommendation consisting of tripling the salaries of the SES, possibly for a fixed term for each SES member and an emphasis on interagency mobility, but reducing its size by two-thirds—a reduction that need not be  prorated among agencies.  It has not received any traction.   There are less than 700 Generals in the US military and more than 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service, an observation that some might find to be incongruous with the statement: “ The Senior Executive Service (SES) is a position classification in the civil service of the United States federal government equivalent to general office or flag officer rank in the US Armed Forces.”

The background for the following post is  summarized herein and displayed below:

A Book Review by Professor James Kwak

                                       The Economists’ Hour                            

               False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

By Binyamin Appelbaum (New York Times)

The book introduces us to the economists whose novel ideas persuaded politicians to see the world differently: Jude Wanniski, for example, whose famous cocktail napkin memorialized Arthur Laffer’s eponymous curve (if tax rates are too high, tax revenue declines), which was adopted by Jack Kemp and motivated Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut; and Jim Tozzi, who in the 1960s pioneered the cost-benefit analysis of regulation, which has since become the corporate sector’s most powerful weapon against government oversight.”

Events such as that noted above are likely not to occur very frequently, if ever, without giving the Senior Executive Service a substantial pay increase. On the other hand, imagine dispatching a number of seasoned and experienced civil servants to our southern borders with the orders and the authority to solve the problem understanding well that they may not see their family for months. Who would be in a better position to leverage the power of a  number of agencies to address this pressing problem on a constant and informed basis?

Consequently the purpose of this post is not to take a position on off-premise working but instead to emphasize (1) that the emphasis for off-premise working, and the attendant decrease in both intra and interagency mobility, is a result in part of non-competitive salaries for the most talented of employees and (2) that fully compensated employees might choose to error on the side of emphasizing on-premise working if “out of sight—out of mind” prevails in a given workplace.

What is suggested is for affected parties to contact Members of Congress and federal agencies and express their support for revamping the  Senior Executive  Service as presented herein. To this end, affected parties could go a step farther and draft proposed legislation for consideration by the Congress and distribute the said proposal to the press for their consideration. Leading academicians and stakeholders could review the proposal set forth herein and publish articles on its strength and weaknesses and how it can be improved.

The above post and its antecedent is available here and here.

NB  Please note the “Federal Salaries” section on the “CRE Public Policy Projects” page.

Jim Tozzi 

Center for Regulatory Effectiveness







1 comment. Leave a Reply

  1. Mia

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