OPM places senior position applications on hold

The final step in the job application process for Senior Executive Service positions was placed on hold governmentwide Jan. 8 to give incoming agency heads more authority over the people serving in top positions.

Office of Personnel Management Associate Director for Employee Services Dennis Dean Kirk informed agency leaders that the Qualifications Review Board — a body responsible for reviewing and approving qualifications for incoming SES appointments — would stop reviewing applications until new heads are installed at various government agencies.

The QRB certification happens after agencies have already selected the candidate they want to fill the position as a last check to ensure that the candidate can fulfil the needs of that position.

A moratorium on QRB certifications is standard practice when an agency head leaves their position and a new head has yet to take up the reins, in order to preserve that new leader’s ability to select top personnel that they feel will best serve their mission. The governmentwide nature of this moratorium stems from the fact that many agency leaders will be required to leave as part of the transition to a new Biden administration.

How long this moratorium lasts will vary by agency, as those that have their top leaders approved by Congress, or simply appointed by the president in some cases, in the early days of the incoming Biden administration will be able to get applications through the QRB relatively soon.

Applications that were submitted to the QRB prior to the moratorium going into effect will still be processed, and there are a few exceptions that agencies can use to get their SES applications approved by the board.

Agencies whose heads were not required to resign as part of the transition may still send SES applications to the board, as their leaders will presumably not change in the coming weeks.

The QRB may also still review SES applications from the Candidate Development Program, which are not tied to specific agency positions and instead certify that the candidate received the sufficient skills and training needed for an SES post as part of that program.

Agencies may also request specific exemptions from the moratorium on a case-by-case basis, if they feel that the SES position is essential national security, homeland security, or a critical agency mission, program, or function; there is low likelihood that the new agency head will have specific interest in the position; or that position has less seniority or policy influence within the agency.

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