What is a SES Qualifications Review Board (QRB)?

A Qualifications Review Board (QRB) is a panel of Senior Executive Service (SES) members who decide whether a candidate for SES membership will be admitted.

The US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) administers SES processes which include assembling QRBs and overseeing the activities of each one. While the US Office of Personnel Management ensures boards adhere to process requirements, boards make independent decisions about SES candidates. OPM provides a staff member for each board that “serves as the QRB Administrator for each board, conducts a briefing about the hiring selection methods used by agencies, gives instructions about the certification process, answers questions from QRB members, and provides any other guidance and staff support as appropriate.”

Each board is made up of three executives from different agencies. At least two of the three must be career public servants. One of the three must have served on a QRB before. This composition helps OPM de-emphasize technical skill and promote transferable leadership skills in the SES. “This independent and objective review is intended to ensure that the (US) government is hiring executives with the qualifications needed in today’s environment, especially the ability to lead in times of change and that technical expertise does not outweigh leadership skill in the of new senior executives,” OPM says.

QRBs evaluate the credentials of those applying for admittance into the Senior Executive Service. Admittance allows career federal employees to assume some of the highest leadership positions in the federal government. Senior Executive Service members compete for jobs directly supervised by Presidential appointees. A candidate’s approval by a QRB is no guarantee of a job. It only means the candidate can legitimately apply.

Board members volunteer their time and effort. Their motivation for volunteering is to ensure the federal government has a quality stable of applicants ready to fill leadership positions. Volunteers have the opportunity to leave a mark on the SES beyond their own careers. Boards help the federal government maintain a baseline of excellence in top tier career service positions. Those interested in volunteering should work with their agencies’ human resource offices or contact OPM directly.

QRB members evaluate each candidate based on the executive core qualifications, but members do not limit themselves to only those factors. “The QRB is responsible for the fair and objective assessment of all case documents in the candidate’s QRB case to determine if the candidate possesses the required executive core qualifications. Board members do not limit their assessment of executive qualifications to the candidate’s ECQ documentation statement; they consider all of the information included in the application package.

The candidate’s qualifications taken as a whole must demonstrate that the individual has the leadership qualities needed in today’s SES,” OPM says.

SES candidates are not compared to each other in QRB deliberations. Rather, candidates are evaluated individually on their own merits. Anyone deemed worthy of approval is given approval without competing with other candidates .

Communication among board members about board business is privileged. OPM may release the names of individuals who have volunteered on QRBs. OPM does not release the makeup of particular boards.

Succession planning is important in all levels of government. While hiring processes should be open competitions, managers need to groom likely successors. When promotion opportunities arise, current employees need to be ready to step into roles with greater responsibilities. If an organization has a person who can promote into a new job, that person can likely be up to speed more quickly than someone entering the organization from the outside.

QRBs play a vital gatekeeping role for succession planning in the highest levels of the federal government. By playing this role, QRBs set baseline expectations for the leadership skills possessed by SES members.