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Senior Executive Service Compensation



The typical compensation package for career senior executives includes salary and awards. Additionally, members enjoy a benefits package and are eligible for other forms of recognition.


The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (Public Law 108-136, November 24, 2003) established a performance-based pay system for members of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The SES pay range has a minimum rate of basic pay equal to 120 percent of the rate for GS-15, step 1, and the maximum rate of basic pay is equal to the rate for Level III of the Executive Schedule. However, for any agency certified under 5 U.S.C. 5307(d) as having a performance appraisal system which, as designed and applied, makes meaningful distinctions based on relative performance, the maximum rate of basic pay will be the rate for Level II of the Executive Schedule. 

On December 23, 2013, the President signed Executive Order 13655 to implement the January 2014 pay adjustments – ending a three-year pay freeze. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memorandum, CPM 2013-18, January 2014 Pay Adjustments,  providing guidance and general information on the 2014 pay rates as well as a series of questions and answers  addressing the application of the pay increase for SES members and SL/ST employees.

Agencies with certified performance appraisal systems for SES members must also apply a higher aggregate limitation on pay--up to the Vice President's salary. (See 5 U.S.C. 5307 and 5 CFR part 530, subpart B.)

For a chart of the Ranges and Aggregate Limit amounts for Members of the Senior Executive Service visit the Salaries & Wages webpage.

Critical position pay up to Level I of the Executive Schedule may be authorized only in rare exceptional cases under 5 U.S.C. 5377. Critical position pay may be granted only for positions that require expertise of an extremely high level in a scientific, technical, professional, or administrative field, and are critical to the agency's accomplishment of the agency's mission, and only to the extent necessary to recruit or retain an individual exceptionally well qualified for the position.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-76), which was enacted on January 17, 2014, contains a provision prospectively freezing pay rates for the Vice President and certain senior political appointees at 2013 levels during calendar year 2014. (See section 741 of title VII of division E of the Act.) The section 741 pay freeze does not affect the 2014 officially established rates (or ranges) of pay for positions held by covered individuals. Rather, it temporarily bars covered officials from receiving pay increases based on the 2014 increases in those officially established rates (or ranges). OPM issued a memorandum providing guidance regarding this pay freeze, CPM 2014-03, 2014 Pay Freeze for Certain Senior Political Officials.


Performance awards (bonuses) may be given only to career executives and are for performance during the previous appraisal period. The agency head approves awards following recommendations by the agency Performance Review Board. The amount of an award must be between 5 percent and 20 percent of the executive's rate of basic pay as of the end of the performance appraisal period. Generally, total award payments in an agency are limited to 10% of the aggregate amount of basic pay paid to career appointees as of the end of the previous fiscal year; an alternative formula is provided for small agencies.

For Fiscal Years 2011-2014, OPM and the Office of Management and Budget have issued guidance limiting the overall spending on awards. Performance awards are limited to 5 percent of the aggregate salary of career members instead of the usual 10 percent. The limitations on individual awards (5-20 percent) remain the same. View the latest guidance on awards, M-14-02, Guidance on Awards for Fiscal Year 2014.


The Guidance on Awards for Fiscal Year 2014 (M-14-02), states that if overall Governmentwide discretionary funding levels are reduced below the discretionary spending caps set forth in the Budget Control Act (the BCA) of 2011(Public Law112-25), each agency shall further reduce awards spending pools for SES and non-SES by an amount proportional to the Governmentwide reduction made from the original BCA discretionary spending cap, as determined by OMB.

Agencies should check with their OMB Budget Examiner for specifics pertaining to any such reductions and their impact on awards spending caps.

Senior executives can also be nominated for Presidential Rank Awards.

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Retention of SES Benefits

Career SES members who, without a break in service, accept a Presidential appointment to an Executive Schedule position (or a position whose pay is set by reference to an Executive Schedule rate) may elect to retain SES benefits (e.g., pay, leave, performance awards and Presidential Rank Award eligibility).


SES members and employees in SL/ST positions are entitled to accrue annual leave at the rate of 8 hours per biweekly pay period and can accumulate a total of up to 90 days of annual leave. All Federal employees including SES and SL/ST members earn 13 days of sick leave each year. There is no ceiling on the amount of sick leave that may be carried over from year to year.

Liability insurance

Public Law 106-58 requires Federal agencies to reimburse certain employees for up to one half of the cost of professional liability insurance, subject to the availability of appropriations.

Sabbaticals (career appointees only)

Agency heads may grant up to 11 months during any 10 year period for study or uncompensated work experience contributing to the employee's development and effectiveness. The employee retains salary and benefits, and the agency may grant travel and per diem costs. To be eligible, the employee must have 7 years of executive service (at least 2 years in the SES), not be eligible for retirement, and agree to remain in Government for 2 years after the sabbatical.

Last move home

A career SES appointee is entitled to moving expenses upon retirement if the individual was moved geographically and was eligible for or within 5 years of optional retirement, or was eligible for discontinued service retirement, at the time of the Federal Government directed move.

Presidential Rank Awards

Each year, the President recognizes and celebrates a small group of career Senior Executives and senior career employees with the Presidential Rank Award. Recipients of this prestigious award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

There are two categories of rank awards: Distinguished and Meritorious. Award winners are chosen through a rigorous selection process. They are nominated by their agency heads, evaluated by boards comprised of private citizens, and approved by the President. The evaluation criteria focus on leadership and results.

Distinguished Rank recipients receive a lump-sum payment of 35 percent of their rate of annual basic pay; Meritorious Rank recipients receive 20 percent of their rate of annual basic pay. All recipients receive a framed certificate signed by the President.

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