The government is likely to give cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth a one-year extension when his term ends this June-end.
Government sources said Seth's extension would provide continuity in the civil service in an election year, particularly at a time when the UPA government is trying to put its best foot forward ahead of the 2014 general elections.
An official said an unintended spin-off of the move that it could save a senior civil servant from embarrassment in case the UPA doesn't return to power.
After all, one of the first things that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had done on assumption of his office was to push out Kamal Pande from the cabinet secretary's chair in June 2004.
Pande was the first civil servant to be appointed as cabinet secretary on a two-year term beginning November 2002. He was, however, unceremoniously shunted out to the inter-state council where he replaced an additional secretary-rank officer.
The fear of a similar fate, however, could haunt the next home and defence secretary.
Home secretary Raj Kumar Singh will complete his two-year tenure at North Block in June-end while defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma's tenure ends in mid-July. A government official said there was no possibility of an extension in service in these two cases.
The UPA had removed two NDA government nominees to these two posts, defence secretary Ajay Prasad and home secretary Anil Baijal too.
A source said a lot would depend on the perceptions about the officers who are appointed to the two key security posts that come with a two-year-term. In case the UPA does not return to power, the party in power can rely on the precedent and shunt out the senior civil servants if they are perceived to be politically aligned.
But a decision on the foreign secretary's post would be taken at a later stage; foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai's term began on August 1.
Government sources said the rules did not provide for a fixed term for any official but only had an enabling provision for a bureaucrat to continue in the job beyond 60 years.
"Every appointment order invariably makes it clear that it holds good until further orders or the retirement age, providing an opportunity to remove the officer before completion of 2 years," a senior official said.