GUIDANCE ON IDENTIFYING SES, SL, AND ST POSITIONS
Agencies are responsible for managing their executive resources and deciding how to organize functions and structure positions in the best way to meet mission requirements. This includes deciding whether executive level positions meet the Senior Executive Service (SES), Senior- Level (SL), or Scientific/Professional (ST) criteria and actually establishing individual SES, SL and ST positions within the executive resource allocation that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) authorizes.
This attachment provides general guidance to help agencies identify SES, SL, and ST positions; maintain agency flexibility for managing their executive resources; and contribute to intra-and interagency consistency in establishing SES, SL, and ST positions.
Unless an agency is excluded from the SES by statute or the President, any position that is classifiable above the GS-15 level is to be placed in the SES, if it meets the functional criteria set forth in 5 U.S.C. 3132(a)(2). Positions that are classifiable above the GS-15 level that do not meet the SES functional criteria are appropriately placed in the ST system if they involve the performance of high-level research and development in the physical, biological, medical, or engineering sciences, or a closely-related field. The SL system includes any other positions that are classifiable above the GS-15 level that do not meet the executive criteria characteristic of the SES nor involve the fundamental research and development responsibilities characteristic of the ST system.
5 U.S.C. 3132(a)(2) sets forth the criteria that characterize an SES position. First, the position must be classifiable above the GS-15 level, based on the level of duties, responsibilities, and qualifications required by the job. Second, the incumbent must engage in any one of the following activities:
- Directs the work of an organizational unit;
- Is held accountable for the success of one or more specific programs or projects;
- Monitors progress toward organizational goals and periodically evaluates and makes appropriate adjustments to such goals;
- Supervises the work of employees (other than personal assistants); or
- Otherwise exercises important policy-making, policy-determining, or other executive functions.
Applying the SES Criteria
The SES was intended to be a corps of executives „Ÿ not technical experts. As stated in 5 U.S.C. 3131, "It is the purpose of this subchapter to establish a Senior Executive Service to ensure that the executive management of the Government of the United States is responsive to the needs, policies, and goals of the Nation and otherwise is of the highest quality." The following guidelines interpret the section 3132(a)(2) criteria in the context of the SES as an executive corps.
Determining whether a position meets the criteria for placement in the SES cannot be made mechanically. Rather, the agency needs to evaluate the position as a whole and determine if it functions as a part of the management team, or as an independent advisor or technical expert. This evaluation should consider the position's duties, responsibilities, and qualification requirements. In borderline cases, particular attention should be given to the position's qualification requirements and the impact these qualifications have on the position's duties and responsibilities. For example, a staff assistant should be placed in the SES if executive qualifications are critical to successful performance of the position's duties and responsibilities.
Directing the work of an organizational unit includes responsibility for:
- Assessing policy, program, and project feasibility;
- Determining program goals and developing implementation plans;
- Designing an organizational structure to promote effective work accomplishment; and
- Setting effectiveness, efficiency, productivity, and management/internal control standards.
At the SES level, accountability for the success of a program or project encompasses responsibility for the full range of factors that affect program/project accomplishment. This includes:
- Obtaining the resources necessary to accomplish the program or project goals and assuming responsibility for their effective use; and
- Dealing with key officials from within and/or outside the agency to gain understanding and support for the program or project.
Responsibility for monitoring progress toward organizational goals and making appropriate adjustments to such goals is an extension of an individual's responsibility for directing the work of an organization. It includes:
- Monitoring work status through formal and informal means to evaluate progress toward objectives;
- Assessing overall effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity of the organization; and
- Identifying, diagnosing, and consulting on problem areas related to implementation and goal achievement; and making decisions on alternative courses of action.
A position should be credited with supervising the work of employees only if it meets the minimum requirements for coverage under OPM's GeneralSchedule Supervisory Guide (April 1998). Specifically, the position's supervisory and related managerial responsibilities must:
- Require accomplishment of work through combined technical and administrative direction of others;
- Constitute a major duty occupying at least 25 percent of the position time; and
- Meet at least the lowest level of Factor 3 in the General Schedule Supervisory Guide based on supervision of non-contractor personnel.
A position with policy-making or policy-determining functions would be expected to include responsibility for:
- Reviewing staff recommendations on policies developed to affect the organization's mission; considering political, social, economic, technical, and administrative factors with potential impact on the recommended policies; and approving the policies.
Distinguishing Between SES and SL/ST positions
Positions that are classifiable above the GS-15 level, but do not meet the SES functional criteria are placed in the Scientific/Professional (ST) system, in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 3104, or in the Senior-Level (SL) system, depending on the nature of the work.
Scientific and Professional Positions
Positions that are classifiable above the GS-15 level, but do not meet the SES functional criteria are appropriately placed in the ST (scientific and professional) system if they involve performance of high-level research and development in the physical, biological, medical or engineering sciences, or a closely-related field. ST positions are established under 5 U.S.C. 3104. All ST positions are in the competitive service.
Research and development positions are characterized by the following features:
- Systematic investigation of theory, experimentation, or simulation of experiments;
- Application of the scientific method including exploring and defining problems, planning the approach and sequence of steps, executing experiments or studies, interpreting findings, and documenting or reporting findings; and
- Exercise of creativity and critical judgment, the variation in which may materially affect the nature of the end product.
The qualifications, stature, and contributions of an individual involved in research and development have a direct and major impact on the level of difficulty and responsibility for the work performed. ST incumbents would be expected to possess a graduate degree, significant research experience, and national or international reputation in their field. Typically, the incumbent of a ST position:
- Has authored fundamental papers in the field of expertise that are widely used and cited;
- Has received significant honors from major organizations for his/her accomplishments and contributions; and
- Is sought as an advisor and consultant on scientific and technological problems that extend beyond his/her specialty.
The Senior-Level (SL) pay system was established under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA) to replace grades GS-16, 17 and 18 of the General Schedule, which were abolished. Positions in the SL system are classifiable above the GS-15 level, but do not meet the executive criteria characteristic of the SES nor do they involve the fundamental research and development responsibilities that are characteristic of the ST pay system. (However, the SL system is used for positions that meet SES executive criteria in certain agencies that are excluded from the SES). SL positions may be in either the competitive or excepted service.
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