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The terms, definitions, and acronyms on this page have been compiled to provide you with a better understanding of words frequently used in the senior executive service personnel system personnel.


Any department (e.g., Treasury) or independent establishment (e.g., Federal Trade Commission) of the Federal Government. The Departments of Army, Navy, and Air Force are considered to be individual agencies except where otherwise indicated. All other organizations within the Department of Defense are considered as one combined agency. Only executive branch agencies are covered by the SES.


The head of a department or agency or an official who has been delegated the authority to act for the head of the department or agency in the matter concerned.


Career - An individual in an SES position whose appointment to the position, or previous appointment to another SES position, was based on a competitive SES merit staffing process and whose executive qualifications for the SES were certified by a Qualifications Review Board, or an individual who converted to the SES with a career appointment.

Noncareer - An individual, other than one serving under a career or limited appointment, who was appointed noncompetitively to an SES General position.


Career: Selection by agency merit staffing process and approval of executive qualifications by a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) run by OPM. Appointments may be to a General or Career Reserved position; rights of the individual are the same in either case.

Noncareer: Appointment authority allocated on individual case basis by OPM; authority reverts to OPM when the noncareer appointee leaves the position. Appointments may be made only to General positions and cannot exceed 25 percent of the agency's SES position allocation; Governmentwide, only 10 percent of SES position allocations may be used for noncareer appointments.

Limited Term: Nonrenewable appointment for up to 3 years to an SES General position which will expire because of the nature of the work (e.g., a special project).

Limited Emergency: Nonrenewable appointment for up to 18 months to an SES General position which must be filled urgently. Total number of limited and limited emergency appointments may not exceed 5% of SES position allocation Governmentwide. Each agency has a pool equal to a percentage of its position allocation for making limited appointments of career or career-type employees from outside the SES. OPM must approve each use of appointment authority in other cases.

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The individual, usually the agency head, who has the authority by law, or by lawfully delegated authority, to make appointments to SES positions, to set pay, and/or to assign final SES performance ratings.


See "Performance Award".


An OPM approved program designed to prepare individuals through developmental assignments and formal training for career appointment to the SES. Participants are chosen through a competitive SES merit staffing process. Those who successfully complete the program are eligible for certification by a Qualifications Review Board and may receive an SES career appointment without further competition.


An SES position that may be filled only by an SES career appointee.


Code of Federal Regulations.


The geographic area normally considered one area for employment purposes. It includes any population center (or two or more neighboring ones) and the surrounding localities where people live and reasonably can be expected to travel back and forth daily to work.


Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 [P.L. 95-454, October 13, 1978]. The SES was established under Title IV of the Act.


Refers to calendar days and not workdays, unless otherwise defined.


A temporary movement of an employee from the employee's position of record to a different position or set of duties for a specified period, usually with the employee returning to his or her regular position at the end of the period.

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The five qualifications considered necessary for effective performance in any SES position and are the basis of a Qualifications Review Board certification for career appointment to the SES. The ECQs are Leading Change, Leading People, Results Driven, Business Acumen, and Building Coalitions.


See "Individual Development Plan".


A panel of top agency executives responsible under the law for conducting the merit staffing process for career appointment to SES positions. Most ERBs are also responsible for setting policy on and overseeing such areas as SES position planning and executive development.


An SES position that may be filled through any type of SES appointment, i.e., career, noncareer, limited term, or limited emergency


The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the Federal Government, the District of Columbia government and certain state and local agencies. In 1993, Congress passed legislation that substantially amended the Hatch Act, allowing most federal and D.C. employees to engage in many types of political activity. For more information, go to


A plan of developmental assignments and formal training an employee will undertake to gain competency in the Executive Core Qualifications (ECQ's). Usually developed in conjunction with the employee's supervisor, or a mentor who is (or has been) a member of the SES. Also known as "Executive Development Plan".


A temporary assignment (2-4 years) of employees between Federal agencies and State, local, and Indian tribal governments, institutions of higher education, and other eligible organizations for the purpose of exchanging skilled personnel and facilitating Federal-State-local cooperation. Also known as "intergovernmental mobility assignments", or "IPA mobility assignments".


Merit Systems Protection Board.

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The process by which an agency recruits for and selects an applicant for a vacancy in the SES or for its SES Candidate Development Program. Vacancies must be advertised for at least 14 days, and must be open to all Federal employees in the civil service at a minimum. Applicants are rated and ranked by an Executive Resources Board and placed in the not qualified, qualified, or best qualified categories. Only best qualified applicants are referred for further consideration by the appointing authority. Applicants who are selected must have their executive qualifications approved by a Qualifications Review Board prior to being appointed to the SES.


ES - Senior Executive Service

EX - Executive Schedule (levels I through V)

SL - Senior-level

ST - Scientific and professional

OT - Other pay plans


An award, ranging from 5 to 20 percent of basic salary, granted by the agency head to an SES career appointee who has at least a fully successful performance rating - commonly referred to as a "bonus."


An agency board that is responsible for making recommendations to the appointing authority on SES performance ratings and bonuses. Agencies may have more than one PRB.


Public Law (e.g., P.L. 95-454).


An award granted by the President to career members of the SES or SL/ST, following nomination by their agency and recommendation by the Director of OPM. Meritorious Executive rank is for sustained accomplishment and carries a lump-sum payment of 20 percent of the executive's annual basic pay. Distinguished Executive rank is for sustained extraordinary accomplishment and carries a lump-sum payment of 35 percent of the executive's annual basic pay.


A one-year trial period for new career appointees to the SES.


A new career appointee who is serving during the SES probationary period.

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A career appointee who has successfully completed the SES probationary period or did not have to serve one (e.g., an individual who converted to the SES as a career appointee upon its establishment in 1979).


A board comprised of current members of the SES convened to certify the executive qualifications of individuals for initial career appointment to the SES. Through independent peer review, QRB members ensure that all new executives or SESCDP graduates have a broad perspective of government and solid executive skills. They focus attention that, in the SES, executive skill, not technical expertise, is paramount. A majority of QRB members must be career appointees.


See "Presidential Rank Award".


Unless otherwise provided by statute or regulation, the rate of pay fixed by law or administrative action for the position held by an employee, before deductions and exclusive of additional pay of any kind. It does not include locality-based comparability payments under 5 U.S.C. 5304, interim geographic adjustments, or special pay adjustments for law enforcement officers under FEPCA, or allowances (e.g., cost-of-living allowances, retention allowances, and physicians comparability allowances).


The change of an individual, while serving continuously, from one SES position to another within the same agency.


An individual retired under a civil service retirement system whose annuity continues after the individual is reemployed.


The noncompetitive reemployment as a career appointee in the SES of an individual who under a previous career appointment successfully completed the SES probationary period or did not have to serve one.


Reduction in force.


An absence from duty, with pay, that an agency may grant to an SES career appointee for up to 11 months to engage in study or uncompensated work experience for developmental purposes.


Senior Executives Association.


Senior Executive Service.

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See "Candidate Development Program".


The SES Performance Appraisal Assessment Tool (SES-PAAT) is designed to be used during the second ear of which an agency's SES appraisal system has been fully certified. OPM requires the agency to use this tool to audit its own SES appraisal system and performance plans against the required system certification criteria to ensure its system still complies with the requirements.


A position in the executive branch that is classified above GS-15, or is in level IV or V of the Executive Schedule, or an equivalent position, which is not required to be filled by Presidential appointment with Senate confirmation, and in which the incumbent:

  • 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.


Senior Level.


Scientific and Professional.


The change of an individual, without a break in service of one full workday, from an SES position in one agency to an SES position in another agency.


United States Code.


Does not apply to applicants for, or members of the Senior Executive Service.

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