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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 Senior Executive Service (SES) is a performance-based pay system. The SES pay range has a minimum rate of basic pay equal to 120 percent of the rate for GS-15, step 1, and a maximum rate of basic pay equal to the rate for Level III of the Executive Schedule. SES members have an annual aggregate limitation on pay equal to the rate for Level I of the Executive Schedule. However, for any agency certified under 5 U.S.C. 5307(d) as having a performance appraisal system that, 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. Also, agencies with certified SES performance appraisal systems must apply a higher aggregate limitation on pay--up to the Vice President's salary.

Each year the President signs an Executive Order announcing the pay adjustments to statutory pay systems. The Office of Personnel Management also issues a memorandum providing guidance and general information on the new pay rates and how they apply to the SES.  (See Related Information section.)

OPM may authorize critical position pay up to an amount equal to Level I of the Executive Schedule. OPM grants these authorizations only in rare and exceptional cases, under 5 U.S.C. 5377. OPM grants critical position pay 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 its mission, and only to the extent necessary to recruit or retain an individual exceptionally well qualified for the position.


Performance awards (bonuses) may be given only to career executives and are for performance during the most recently completed appraisal period. Agencies must implement and fund an SES performance awards program, as required by statute (5 U.S.C. 5384). The agency head approves performance awards based on final summary ratings following recommendations by the agency Performance Review Board. The amount of an individual award must be between 5 percent and 20 percent of the executive's rate of basic pay. Agencies may take budgetary considerations into account when deciding on the number and amount of awards to be provided, as long as regulatory and statutory requirements are met. Statute limits total award payments in an agency 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.

Career executives also can be nominated for Presidential Rank Awards to recognize sustained (Meritorious Rank) and sustained extraordinary (Distinguished Rank) accomplishments. Recipients of the Distinguished Rank are entitled to payment of 35% of annual basic pay, while Meritorious Rank recipients are entitled to payment of 20% of annual basic pay.

In addition, SES members may be eligible for cash awards, which are based on a special act or service, suggestion, invention, superior accomplishment, or productivity gain not linked to a performance rating.  

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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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