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Overview & History



The SES includes most managerial, supervisory, and policy positions classified above General Schedule (GS) grade 15 or equivalent positions in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

These positions are excluded:

  1. positions requiring appointment by the President with Senate confirmation;
  2. legislative and judicial branch positions;
  3. positions in law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies, in the Foreign Service, and in other agencies excluded by statute or by the President.

Administrative law judges, members of boards of contract appeal, and positions in independent Government corporations (e.g., Tennessee Valley Authority) and in certain financial regulatory agencies also are excluded.

There are two types of positions and four types of appointments in the SES:

Career Reserved positions are those which, as defined in law, are "to ensure impartiality, or public's confidence of impartiality of government." These positions can only be filled by career appointees.

General positions may be filled by any type of SES appointee -- career, noncareer, limited term or limited emergency.

Career appointments may be to a General or Career Reserved position; rights of the individual are the same in either case. Incumbents are selected by agency merit staffing process and must have their executive qualifications approved by a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) convened by OPM.

Noncareer appointments are approved by OPM on a case-by-case basis and the appointment authority reverts to OPM when the noncareer appointee leaves the position. Appointments may be made only to General positions and cannot exceed 25% of the agency's SES position allocation. Governmentwide, only 10% of SES positions may be filled by noncareer appointees.

A Limited Term appointment may be made for up to 3 years, is nonrenewable and must be to an SES General position which will expire because of the nature of the work (e.g., a special project).

A Limited Emergency appointment is also a nonrenewable appointment, may be for up to 18 months, and must be to an SES General position established to meet a bona-fide, unanticipated, urgent need.

The total number of limited appointments may not exceed 5% of SES positions allocated Governmentwide. Each agency has a pool equal to 3% of its allocation for making limited appointments of career or career-type employees from outside the SES. OPM must approve use of this type of appointment authority in other cases.

A position meets the SES functional criteria if its incumbent engages in any 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.


The Senior Executive Service (SES) was established by Title IV of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of 1978 (P.L. 95-454, October 13, 1978) and became effective on July 13, 1979. The CSRA envisioned a Senior Executive Service whose members have shared values, a broad perspective of government, and solid executive skills. Its stated purpose was 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 Government's senior executives would be held accountable for individual and organizational performance. To achieve this purpose, the CSRA gave greater authority to agencies to manage their executive resources and assigned OPM the responsibility for Governmentwide leadership, direction, and oversight.

Under the CSRA, the SES was set up as a "third" service, completely separate from the competitive and excepted services. It replaced over 60 separate executive personnel authorities covering from one to several thousand positions. Top management positions that had been subject to disparate rules and practices, with requirements for prior approval of almost every personnel action, were joined into a unified and distinct personnel system that provided for considerable agency authority and flexibility.

Since 1979, OPM's approach to executive resources management has gradually evolved from the traditional regulatory and procedure oriented approach to one that focuses on leadership, provides expert assistance and quality services to agencies and executives, and preserves merit principles and other governmentwide interests. Our goal today is to maintain a proper balance between the agencies' need for flexibility and OPM's responsibility to preserve the Governmentwide interests of a corporate, merit-based executive service.

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