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The SES cap sets an approved upper limit on the number of SES roles that each APS agency can staff. Agencies are expected to manage the recruitment and movement of SES staff within their approved SES cap. The SES cap is managed by the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission).

The SES cap applies to all SES roles (i.e. those classified as SES under the Public Service Classification Rules 2000) that are filled for three or more months.

SES Cap Reporting

Agencies must report roles filled by:

  • substantive SES employees, in a role at their own or higher SES level
  • non-SES employees acting at SES level
  • non-ongoing employees engaged to work in SES roles.

Agencies are not required to report short-term arrangements where SES roles are filled for less than three months, such as through acting arrangements or non-ongoing employment.
Where an SES employee moves temporarily to another agency, the role is generally attributed to the SES cap of the agency that funds the employee's salary.

An SES employee is considered to be 'inoperative' for cap purposes where they are on long-term (paid or unpaid) leave for a period of three months or more. As these SES are not available to discharge the functions of the agency they are not counted against the agency's SES cap. Where another employee backfills the SES role for three months or more this is counted for cap purposes.

Agencies are expected to manage the reintegration of inoperative staff on their return to duty within their agreed cap. Agencies are required to report inoperative staff.
Where an agency exceeds its approved SES cap, it is to contact the Commission to discuss the situation. All agencies are expected to manage within their allocated SES cap and must remedy any 'over' report as soon as possible.

SES Cap Variations

Reductions in the SES cap can be made through:

  • Voluntary reduction—whereby an agency head advises the APS Commissioner that the agency wishes to reduce the agency agreed cap; and
  • Administrative reduction, such as:
    • a section 37 retirement where the SES role has been subject to an agency restructure which results in the role being abolished
    • a time-limited or temporary role expires—ie end of a taskforce or project
    • a Machinery of Government adjustment—ie where the agency is abolished or loses SES resources.

Increases to the SES cap can be made through:

  • Administrative increase—ie a Machinery of Government adjustment whereby the gaining agency's SES cap is increased and the losing agency's cap is decreased
  • Legal requirement—where legislation specifies that a particular role must be undertaken by an SES employee
  • Exceptional circumstances—ie a major Government policy announcement that requires immediate implementation or SES support to plan the implementation.

Where agencies develop New Policy Proposals (NPPs) that may result in an associated increase in SES beyond their approved cap, the Department of Finance's agreement to the NPP costing proposal is not approval for an increase in the SES cap.

Requesting an SES Cap Increase

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service (the Minister) is responsible for approving any increase to an agency's SES cap. The Minister is supported by the Commission which monitors the SES cap and evaluates agency requests for an SES cap increase.

Agency submissions are to be sent from the relevant agency head to the APS Commissioner in the first instance. The Commission will make a recommendation to the Minister for his/her consideration.

In considering a request for an SES cap increase, the Commission will evaluate:

  • the case for exceptional circumstances to justify the proposed new SES role(s)
  • evaluation of the proposed SES role(s) against the SES work level standards
  • why the work cannot be absorbed within the agency's existing cap, including any opportunity to reallocate work within the agency, and
  • the consideration of risk if the agency is unable to staff the proposed new SES role.

Establishing a new SES cap

Prior to the establishment of a new agency, the portfolio department should contact the Commission in the first instance to discuss the need for an SES cap. If an SES cap is sought, a submission will need to be made.

More information on the SES Cap is available by contacting the APSC via email at: staffingpolicy [at] apsc.gov.au.

Last reviewed: 
9 May 2018