The creation of a Senior Executive Service (SES) has been a common theme in the reform agenda of countries, which have embarked upon civil service reforms during the last three decades. The idea is to appoint a small group of civil servants into the SES from which high-level government appointments can be made. This carefully chosen group of civil servants will be located near the apex of the executive pyramid, just below the ministers.
The SES is designed to be an enclave within the civil service that receives broader opportunities, has special conditions of employment, is made accountable for rigorous standards of performance and behaviour, is paid a higher rate of remuneration and has less job security. The Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in its tenth report has recommended that in the context of emerging challenges, there is a case for a “progressive approach to incorporation of certain features of a position- based SES model into the civil services in India”.
The ARC has examined the position-based SES in Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, the UK, Netherlands and USA, which is more open because appointments to identified senior positions are made from a wider pool comprising all civil servants who are qualified to apply as well as those applicants from the private sector with relevant domain competency and experience. Its openness is its basic strength.
Although this system is more open than the career system, in practice, the bulk of appointments in the position-based system are from among career civil servants.
According to the tenth report of the ARC, in the American SES, “outsiders” fill up only 10 per cent of the positions. In Australia, recruitment to the SES from outside the Australian Public Service has ranged from 25 per cent in 1992-93 to 14 per cent in 2000-01.
The ARC has deliberated on the advantages and disadvantages of the career-based and position-based SES model for India. In India, it has been difficult not only for highly qualified persons from outside government, but also for high performers from other services to get selected for top civil service positions.
It has also been alleged that the quasi-monopolistic hold of the career civil services on senior management position breeds complacency, inhibits innovative thinking and prevents the inflow of new ideas from outside government. Such arguments constitute the rationale for the suggestion that a position-based SES type of structure may need to be considered for the Indian Civil Services.
The counter argument, however, is that the All India Services (and the IAS in particular), provide a unique link between the cutting edge at the field level and top policy making positions. This bridge between policy making and implementation, while crucial to all systems, has been of strategic significance in the Indian context, given the regional diversity of the country and was an aspect of the British administration in India which was consciously adopted by our Constitution makers.
The ARC Report after weighing all the aspects has said: “The Commission has considered this issue in all its aspects and in the context of emerging challenges and on balance feels that there is a case for a progressive approach to incorporation of certain features of a position-based SES model into the civil services in India”.