Cantwell, Colleagues Request GAO Investigate Troubling SES Employee Reassignments

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member Maria Cantwell joined seven Congressional leaders in sending a letter today to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding troubling reports of reassignments of members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). Reports indicate as many as 33 SES members may have been reassigned at the Department of the Interior (DOI) – prompting concerns of political motivations and a review by DOI’s Inspector General – and that potential reassignments based on political considerations may have also occurred at other federal agencies. 

The letter was signed by Cantwell, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Senate Indian Affairs Committee Vice Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM), and Senate HSGAC Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Ranking Member Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

“Congress created the SES program to enhance the workforce at federal agencies by developing a group of professionals to ensure delivery of high quality service to the public,” the Democratic Committee leaders wrote to GAO.  “We are concerned that mismanagement of this program could lead to premature retirements, lower morale within the federal workforce, higher costs for the Department, and discourage talented professionals from entering the SES.”

Under Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations, agencies cannot involuntarily reassign SES employees within 120 days of the appointment of a new agency head, nor can agencies reassign SES employees before a non-career appointee properly appraises a SES employee’s performance.  This ‘get-acquainted’ period is intended to allow new agency heads and non-career appointees to get to know the SES employees and their skills and expertise.

The leaders continued, “We are concerned about reports of agencies reassigning SES staff in a manner that is inconsistent with the purposes of the SES program, and which will impair the ability of agencies to implement programs in accordance with laws and Congressional intent.” 

The Democratic Committee leaders are requesting GAO complete an accounting of the movement of career SES staff at selected agencies, paying particular attention to a series of topics outlined in the letter, including:

The number of reassignments of career SES staff that have occurred since January 19, 2017, and specific information about each of the reassignments including: 

  • Timing of reassignment;
  • SES staff’s length of service in the original position;
  • A description of the original position of the person reassigned and of the newly assigned position for each person reassigned (e.g. job title, agency program or office assignment, and general description of duties);
  • Whether the reassignment was either voluntary or requested by the career SES staff or was an involuntary reassignment;
  • The response of the SES staff to the reassignment; and
  • Whether SES staff who rejected the reassignment resigned from the SES program and accepted a non-SES position at the agency, resigned from the agency, or resigned from federal service, and, to the extent information is available from exit surveys and other available data, what the factors were affecting their decision.