HR

Some agencies fail to adequately monitor SES reassignments

Federal agencies have strict moratoriums on reassigning senior executive service employees after a new agency head or non-career supervisor starts the job, in order to make sure that such employees are protected from arbitrary or capricious changes.

That moratorium requires that SES employees not be reassigned to new positions within 120 days of a new agency head or supervisor arriving unless the SES employee voluntarily agrees to the new assignment.

According to a Sept. 16 Government Accountability Office report, some agencies fail to keep adequate records of SES reassignments, meaning that they can’t guarantee that reassignments occurring within the moratorium were voluntary.

“The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for the governmentwide management of the SES. While OPM has oversight authority, it has not monitored career SES reassignments, or required agencies to take corrective actions. As a result, OPM is likely missing opportunities to correct career SES reassignments that were contrary to requirements,” the GAO report said.

“Federal agencies have broad authority to assign and reassign career SES members to best accomplish the agency’s mission. Reassignments can have important benefits for meeting evolving priorities, such as promoting executive development and engagement, and improving agency mission delivery and collaboration. However, these reassignments must adhere to requirements in statute and regulation.”

The report reviewed the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior and found that Commerce did not maintain the required documentation, HUD did not seek written waivers from reassigned employees and Interior did not have a process for making reassignments within the moratorium.

And though OPM offers tools and guidance for agencies to meet requirements for SES reassignments, but GAO found that the agency does not monitor or provide oversight on compliance with those requirements.

“Causes for this included a lack of understanding of the requirements, failure to determine the noncareer supervisor’s appointment date, and insufficient record retention processes. As a result, agencies could not always demonstrate that career SES members were voluntarily reassigned during this moratorium period, as required. However, Energy took steps during the course of this review to help ensure that they will meet this requirement in the future,” the report said.

“OPM has authority to require an agency to take a corrective action in a situation where OPM finds the agency has taken an SES staffing action, such as a reassignment, contrary to law or regulation. However, to date, OPM has not monitored or provided oversight of career SES reassignments.”

GAO recommended that the reviewed agencies take action to ensure that reassignments are in compliance with regulation and that OPM make use of its oversight and corrective authorities.

Commerce, Interior, HUD and Energy agreed with the recommendations, but OPM said that it did not agree and relies on agencies to meet the mandates, as reassignments are not a priority in light of scarce resources.

“While we acknowledge that federal agencies are primarily responsible for complying with SES requirements, OPM is responsible for governmentwide management of the SES program,” the report said.

“Therefore, we maintain that OPM should use its oversight authority to ensure agencies' reassignments of SES staff are consistent with requirements. OPM also acknowledged that it has the authority to enforce statutes governing the civil service, and can require agencies to take corrective actions should it become aware of a violation.”

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