News Column

Light Shone on Big Bonuses for Top Federal Workers

May 17, 2013
federal pay and bonuses

A category called Senior Executive Service exists above the civil service pay schedule, a lofty goal in working for the federal government.

A report to be issued today by a subcommittee headed by Sen. Claire McCaskill suggests one reason why.

Over a four-year period, the tiny minority (1 percent) of the federal workforce who fill these supervisory positions received $340 million in cash bonuses -- on top of annual salaries ranging from $119,000 to $179,000, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight found.

McCaskill, D-Mo., previously had investigated bonuses in one federal agency, the General Services Administration, in a subcommittee she led.

She expanded her inquiry government-wide this year as head of the new permanent oversight panel of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

McCaskill introduced legislation on Thursday that would halt the bonuses during forced cutbacks in government spending under the process known as sequestration. "The idea that some of the highest-paid federal government employees could be getting bonuses while others are being furloughed is outrageous," she said.

The subcommittee report covered the period from 2008 through 2011. In 2011, the government gave bonuses to roughly 81 percent of those in the senior executive category, a total of 6,519 federal employees receiving additional pay.

Most of the cash awards were based on performance ratings, but the report said that 14 percent of them were for different reasons, among them a category called "time-off awards."

The government's Office of Personnel Management defines this category as "time off from duty, without loss of pay or charge to leave, granted to a federal employee as a form of incentive or recognition."

McCaskill observed that the Obama administration has stopped awarding bonuses to most employees but that federal law requires agencies to give cash awards to members of the Senior Executive Service who meet performance standards.

Her legislation, which has drawn two Republican co-sponsors, would change the requirement during sequestration.

In 2011, employees at the General Services Administration took home more performance awards on average than any other federal agency, followed by the Department of Labor, the National Science Foundation and the Department of the Navy, the report says.

The GSA was the subject of congressional investigations last year after disclosure that the agency had spent nearly $800,000 on a conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

A separate report Thursday from the GSA's inspector general identified numerous deficiencies that "illustrate a willingness by GSA to violate legal requirements" in awarding bonuses to senior executives.

A GSA official who carries the title of Chief People Officer responded by saying the findings "are of great concern and require immediate attention."


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Source: Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) 2013

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