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Special Message to the Congress Proposing the Establishment of a Federal Executive Service

February 02, 1971

To the Congress of the United States:

In my State of the Union message, one of the six great goals that I proposed to the Congress was a renewal of the Federal Government itself through a sweeping reorganization of the executive branch. The structural changes I outlined would enable us to bring greater coherence to the management of Federal programs, and to raise them to a new level of effectiveness. But even the best of structures requires the effective utilization of highly qualified people. The need for the best people and for making the best use of their talents, becomes more vital as we improve the structure and organization of the Federal Government.

It is on our Federal executives--both career and non-career--that the task of translating broad public policy into operational reality rests most heavily. These men and women are among the most valuable resources that we have as a government. We must not use them wastefully. We must not let their talents and their dedication be squandered. And we must constantly seek better ways of attracting into the executive ranks of the Federal service new people with the capacity and the drive to help us meet our national needs.

The time has come, therefore, to take a critical look at the existing Federal system for selecting, training, assigning and rewarding executive manpower, and to see whether it cannot be improved. We have carried out such an examination, and have concluded that it can be significantly improved by incorporating principles of modern personnel management.

For some time now, the Government's executive manpower systems have shown increasing evidence of weakness. The present arrangements have grown up over the years without any comprehensive plan. Disparate systems for the authorization, appointment and assignment of Government executives have prevented adequate planning and provision for constantly changing requirements. The resulting complexities and rigidities have reached a point at which it is now futile to try to patch the present structure further. Too often, the present system serves only to frustrate the conscientious agency head and the dedicated career executive alike.

At my request, the Civil Service Commission has completed a painstaking and systematic analysis of the existing manpower management programs for executives. The Commission has informed me that reforms are essential, reforms that cannot be made within existing law. I agree. Accordingly, I recommend legislative action to establish an entirely new personnel system for upper-level officials of the executive branch, to be called the Federal Executive Service.

This Service would apply to those persons--now about 7,000 in all--serving in executive branch positions presently established at grades GS-16, 17, and 18, or within the same pay range under several other salary systems. It is designed to meet the special needs of managing the Federal establishment, and at the same time to preserve and strengthen merit principles.

In order to accomplish these purposes, the legislation I am proposing would:

--Abolish the present so-called super-grade system and establish the Federal Executive Service, to include both career and non-career officials. Preserving the present ratio, it would establish a minimum of 75 percent career appointments and a maximum of 25 percent non-career appointments.

--Establish a general salary range (from about $28,000 to the equivalent of level V, now $36,000), within which the agency head can set the salary of each individual member, provided that he maintains an average salary for all members of the Federal Executive Service employed by his agency as established annually by the Civil Service Commission after collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget.

--Require the appointment of Qualifications Boards to pass on the eligibility, under merit standards, of all persons selected for future entry into the Federal Executive Service as career members. Holders of present supergrade positions and persons chosen for non-career appointment to the Federal Executive Service would be exempt from this requirement.

--Provide that new entrants into the career system be employed under renewable three-year agreements, and give present holders of career type supergrade executive positions the choice of entering the new Service under the renewable three-year agreements or retaining their present positions and salaries.

--In the case of a career Federal executive whose employment agreement expires without being extended (whether because renewal was not offered by the agency, or because the executive chose not to accept the renewal offered), the legislation would provide for either severance pay, retirement, or reversion to the top grade of the Classification Act (GS-15) without reduction in pay from his previous level for a period of two years.

--Provide for the Civil Service Commission, after collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget, to establish annually maximum numbers and average salary for members of the Federal Executive Service in each agency, taking into account program priorities, level of work, work load, and budget allowances for the agency concerned.

To assure proper, periodic Congressional review of the operation of the Federal Executive Service the proposed legislation would also require the Civil Service Commission to make an annual report to the Congress on April 1, detailing the number of Federal Executive Service members it proposes to allow each agency for the coming year and the average salary level it proposes to set for each agency. At the same time, the Commission would report any variances it had allowed during the previous year under its statutory authority to meet emergency needs or provide for needs occasioned by changes in existing programs. If the Congress did not make any changes within the 90-day period, the Commission's proposed authorizations would take effect.

By establishing eminent Qualifications Boards, composed of highly respected professionals, to review the qualifications of all persons proposed for entry into career positions, this legislation would ensure the continued high quality of Federal career executives and enhance the prestige associated with executive service in the Federal Government.

By differentiating clearly, for appointment and retention purposes, between executives who make the Federal service their career and those appointed for brief periods, it would preserve the integrity of the career service.

By providing for renewable, fixed-term agreements for career executives, it would give agency heads the flexibility needed to use their high-level personnel most effectively in meeting the changing demands made on the Federal Government.

By giving him access to positions of high responsibility without jeopardizing his career rights, it would enlarge the horizons of the individual career executive. One of the many faults of the present system is that it results too often in bunching non-career officials at the top, with career officials relegated to lower positions. This new proposal would strengthen executive development programs and reduce the present obstacles to executive mobility.

By providing for an annual assessment of executive manpower requirements in relation to program activity in each agency, it would make it possible to respond promptly to changing needs and to eliminate wasteful overstaffing of low priority programs.

In addition, it would give the Congress annually a comprehensive overview of Federal executive manpower programs and policies, an indispensable measure for ensuring the exercise of Congressional responsibilities in monitoring the use of this manpower resource in partnership with the executive branch.

The Federal Executive Service proposal has been designed to ensure against an increase in the partisan political component of the executive group. It is to this end that I am recommending retention of the approximate present ratio of career to non-career executives--a ratio that has proved an effective one during several administrations of both political parties. I feel that it is imperative that we strengthen the career service and make Government careers more rewarding to individuals of high ability. This proposal will materially serve that end.

The proposed new Federal Executive Service would result in simplification of the existing fragmented system. But its most important result would be to improve the capacity of the executive branch to meet the challenges of our democratic system. Freed from unnecessary obstacles and from much red tape, the career executives of the Federal Government would be better able to realize their potential, both personally and in terms of program accomplishment. At the same time those responsible for agency performance would be given sufficient authority over the selection and use of their most able manpower to meet their agencies' goals more fully and more efficiently.

The demands upon Government today are great and pressing. I am convinced that the Government has attracted, and will continue to attract, men and women of the highest caliber. But too often we have enmeshed them in a web of rigid and intricate personnel policies which have frustrated their efforts and arrested their professional growth.

We need both dedication and high performance from our Federal executives. Mere competence is not enough. Mere continuity is self-defeating. We must create an environment in the Government service in which excellence and ingenuity can flourish--and in which these qualities are both encouraged and rewarded.

It is to this end that I urge prompt and favorable consideration of this landmark legislation.


The White House

February 2, 1971

NOTE.: The proposed legislation was introduced as H.R. 3807 and S. 1682.

On the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on the proposed Federal Executive Service by Robert E. Hampton, Chairman, and Seymour S. Berlin, Director, Bureau of Executive Manpower, United States Civil Service Commission.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress Proposing the Establishment of a Federal Executive Service Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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