Pay-for-Performance and the Senior Executive Service

GAO compared SES members’ performance awards against their evaluation ratings in the 24 largest agencies. It found nearly all SES members rated better than average, a statistic improbability anywhere but Lake Wobegone ofA Prairie Home Companion fame. About 85 percent of SES members scored either a 5, the highest rating, or a 4, the second highest, for fiscal 2010-2013.

Supervisors feel pressure to rate executives highly because the ratings become criteria for myriad compensation decisions, GAO said.

But budget constraints and recent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget has kept the total amount of performance awards down and erased distinctions among SES. Executives with ratings of 5 earned $4,991 more than those with ratings of 4 in fiscal 2010. By 2013, the difference had shrunk to just $2,604. Between those in the middle of the pack, the difference is even smaller. Executives with ratings of 4 took home $690 more than those with ratings of 3.

As the difference lessens, the perception that awards are not directly linked to performance grows, GAO noted. Yet an executive at rating level 5 is much more likely to receive a performance award than one rated at 4 or below.

More at Federal News Radio.