Senior Executive Service (SES): Frequently Asked Questions


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Q. What does the Senior Executive Service (SES) insignia symbolize?

A. The SES insignia or emblem represents a keystone, the center stone that holds all the stones of an arch in place. This represents the critical role of the SES as a central coordinating point between government’s political leadership, which sets the political agenda, and the line workers who implement it. Members of the SES translate that political agenda into reality. The upright lines in the center of the keystone represent a column in which individual SES members are united into a single leadership corps. There is no particular symbolism to the number of lines, which has varied over the years with different iterations of the logo. The SES insignia cannot be modified.

Q. What’s the difference between SES, ST, and SL positions?

A. SES positions are classified above GS-15 or equivalent. The position involves one or more of the criteria set forth in 5 USC 3132 (e.g., directing the work of an organization, monitoring progress toward organizational goals, etc.).

ST (scientific and professional) positions are classified above the GS-15 level and involve high-level research and development. ST positions are established under 5 USC 3104 and are always in the Competitive Service. SL (Senior Level) positions are classified above GS-15. The work of the position does not meet the SES criteria, nor does it involve the fundamental research and development responsibilities that are characteristic of ST positions. SL positions may be in either the Competitive or Excepted Service.

Q. Where do I find information about the number of SES who receive Presidential Rank Awards and bonuses (performance awards)?

A. Historical information about both types of awards is published in OPM’s “The Fact Book & Federal Civilian Workforce Statistics.”

Q. Where can I apply for SES positions?

A. All SES vacancies are advertised on OPM’s website: From this site, you may download announcements for vacancies of interest to you.

Q. Do veterans receive hiring preference for SES positions?

A. No. The reason is that 5 USC 2108(3), which defines the term “preference eligible,” provides that this term does not include applicants for, or members of, the Senior Executive Service.

Q. What kind of forms do I need to complete when I apply for an SES position?

A. You may submit a federal resume for uploading or completing the USAJOBS online resume builder. Review the vacancy announcement for additional forms or documents required by the agency/department to which you are applying. Take particular note of the information you must provide if you submit a vacancy announcement requiring additional documentation, such as ECQs.

Q. The vacancy announcement says I must submit supplemental documents addressing how I meet the mandatory Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs). How do I address these?

A. The “Guide to Senior Executive Service Qualifications” contains information about the ECQs and samples you may use to develop your own statements.

Q. What are the three types of Qualifications Review Board (QRB) cases?

A. Criterion A cases are based on demonstrated executive experience. Candidates must demonstrate that they have experience/competence in all five ECQs.

Criterion B cases are based on successful participation in an OPM-approved SES Candidate Development Program (SES CDP). Candidates who compete government-wide and successfully complete a CDP are eligible for non-competitive appointment to the SES. (However, successful completion does not guarantee placement in the SES.) Criterion C cases are based on the candidate having special or unique qualities that indicate a likelihood of success in the SES. Candidates must demonstrate that they have the qualifications for the position and the potential to quickly acquire full competence in the five ECQs. The package submitted for QRB approval must contain the agency’s assessment of why the selectee uniquely qualifies for the position, and an Individual Development Plan that focuses on the specific ECQs that need to be enhanced.

Q. I believe I am qualified for the Senior Executive Service because of the executive-type positions I have held. How do I go about obtaining SES certification from OPM?

A. You must first identify a position for which to apply. Agencies announce their SES vacancies on OPM’s website, USAJOBS. From there, you may download information on vacancies of interest to you, complete the application procedures, and submit your application to the agency that has the vacancy. The agency submits the ECQs of the person selected to a Qualifications Review Board (QRB) convened by OPM. The QRB must certify all selectees before they can be appointed to the SES. Further information about the selection process is available elsewhere on this site.

Q. If I send OPM my written responses to the ECQs, will you give me your opinion and any suggestions for improvements?

A. No. OPM will not pre-review ECQ statements. To do so would be a conflict of interest since we administer the QRB, and would also provide the requestor with an unfair advantage over other applicants.

Q. Do I need to address each Fundamental Competency within each ECQ?

A. No. Because the Fundamental Competencies are cross-cutting, they should be addressed over the course of the ECQ narrative. It is not necessary to address them directly as long as the narrative, in its totality, shows mastery of these competencies on the whole.

Q. Will I be assessed on all of the competencies? A. No. You will be assessed on each ECQ, not on the individual competencies (although you are expected to demonstrate mastery of the Fundamental Competencies somewhere within your narrative statement).

Q. What happened to the key characteristics?

A. We reviewed the key characteristics and determined this information was not essential to the application process. For further clarification of the ECQs, candidates may refer to the competency definitions.

Q. What are the current pay rates for SES jobs?

A. Salary Table No. 2020-EX Rates of Basic Pay for the Executive Schedule (EX) Effective January 2022

Level Rate
Level I $226,300
Level II $203,700
Level III $187,300
Level IV $176,300
Level V $165,300

Q. Is there a difference between acting in an SES position and being detailed to one? Am I entitled to SES pay while I am detailed to or acting in such a position? A. There is some difference between acting in and being detailed to an SES position. OPM defines “acting” to mean a situation in which (for instance) a Deputy’s position description includes authority and responsibility to perform the duties of an SES-level Director’s position in that Director’s absence. This “acting” authority is meant to cover a short-term absence or vacancy. When an acting assignment extends to the lengths of time discussed in 5 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 317.903, the provisions of that section, including requirements for competition, apply. These restrictions are appropriate, since the opportunity to serve under detail in an SES position may provide an advantage in competing for SES positions in the future. OPM regulations on details to SES positions are found at 5 CFR 317.903. Under that section, a detail includes “the temporary assignment of a non-SES member to an SES position, with the expectation that the employee will return to the official position of record upon expiration of the detail.” The regulation provides that, “For purposes of pay and benefits, the employee continues to encumber the position from which detailed.” That is, a GS-15 who is detailed to an SES position continues to be paid at the GS-15 rate of pay of his or her position of record.

Paragraph (b) of the regulation (5 CFR 317.903) describes procedures and time lengths for detailing a non-SES member to an SES position. It requires agencies to use competitive procedures for any detail exceeding 240 days. Agencies must receive OPM approval before detailing for longer than 240 days a non-SES member to an SES position that supervises other members of the SES.

Q. Am I eligible to earn credit hours if I participate in my agency’s Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) Program? A. No. Credit hours are a form of premium pay; SES members are not eligible. (5 CFR 610.408)

Q. Can I earn compensatory time? A. No. Compensatory time is another form of premium pay; SES members are not eligible. (5 CFR 610.408)

Q. What are the eligibility requirements for a “last move home” for a member of the SES?

A. You must be a career member of the SES to be eligible for a “last move home.” SES members on non-career and limited-term/emergency appointments are not eligible. Under 5 USC 5724(a)(3), retiring career appointees are entitled to travel, transportation, and household goods expenses to the place where they will live if:

They retire after 9/22/88. They were moved geographically as a career appointee in the SES (either reassigned or transferred in the career SES or appointed into the career SES at the new duty station); and at the time of the geographic move, they were eligible for optional retirement, or were within five years of optional retirement, or were eligible for discontinued service retirement. The General Services Administration regulates payment of travel and transportation expenses. Contact your agency’s travel or Human Resources Office for further information and guidance.

Q. Is there any program that will help me prepare to become an SES member?

A. Yes. SES Candidate Development Programs are competitive programs designed to develop the executive qualifications of employees with strong executive potential. Participation in an SES CDP is not a prerequisite for obtaining an SES appointment.

Q. Where can I get information about SES Candidate Development Programs (SES CDPs)? A. Visit for information about SES Candidate Development Programs. You may also visit for information about OPM’s Federal Candidate Development Program (FED CDP).

Q. Are members of the SES subject to the Federal Hatch Act?

A. Yes. The Hatch Act, administered by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government, District of Columbia government and some state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. Go to OSC’s website for additional information.

Q. Are members of the SES allowed to join Federal labor unions?

A. Union membership is not prohibited. However, a labor union cannot represent a member of the SES in a grievance, and its contract provisions do not apply to the SES.

Q. What is the established protocol for SES members? A. For guidance on SES protocol, contact your agency’s Human Resources Office.

Q. Is there an association for the Senior Executive Service?

A. Yes. The Senior Executive Association (SEA) is a professional association representing the interests of the members of the career Senior Executive Service. SEA maintains a website where members may access valuable resources from legal help (e.g., professional liability insurance) and member forums to information on how to obtain SES flags, lapel pins, and other SES items.


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