Federal employee bonuses under fire

Two senators intend to create a way to “claw back” a federal employee’s bonus if the inspector general issues an adverse decision about the employee in the same year, according to a new bill.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced the Stop Wasteful Federal Bonuses and Conferences Act (S. 3481) Aug. 2, as they target the General Services Administration’s wasteful spending that has come to light in recent months.

In her investigation, McCaskill found GSA paid more than $1 million in bonuses to employees who were under an investigation for wrongdoing and misconduct.

“We’re aiming to make sure that agency leaders can’t just shrug off responsibility for wrongdoing, and to see that employees who betray the public’s trust by wasting taxpayer dollars are punished, not rewarded for bad behavior,” McCaskill said.

Also under the bill, agency officials would be barred for two years from giving bonuses to employees whose conduct has been determined by an IG to have resulted in fraud, waste, or abuse of taxpayer dollars or a violation of contracting law.

Beyond bonuses, agencies would have to get approval by an agency head or a chief management officer to hold a conference costing more than $200,000. And Congress would have to know about conference spending on an annual basis.

The bill comes out as GSA continues to take fire on Capitol Hill for its past conference spending and its bonuses. On Aug. 1, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing where members questioned a GSA official about conferences and bonuses. Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and others cited a recent report from WUSA Channel 9 that found GSA awarded roughly 10 percent of the bonuses federal employees received last year. GSA has only about 1 percent of the government's employees. In fiscal 2011, GSA handed out $44 million in employee bonuses across the agency.

Cynthia Metzler, chief administrative services officer at GSA, told the committee that Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini is doing a top-down review of GSA’s operations, including employee bonuses. Tangherlini has already canceled most employee bonuses.

Along with bonuses, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, asked Metzler about the SmartPay Training Conference in Nashville that was going on the same day as the hearing.

She emphasized that Tangherlini now requires GSA officials to justify the need for conferences, including the one Denham asked about, as part of his internal assessment.

She said in testimony that conferences require a business justification and a budget. She and the head of the office pursuing the conference have to approve it. For those conferences with anticipated costs over $100,000, the deputy administrator must also approve the conference. So far, GSA has canceled 37 conferences.

GSA officials have faced lawmakers numerous times since April about conference spending, particularly the lavish conference in Las Vegas in 2010.

As for McCaskill and Ayotte’s bill, it was referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for further consideration.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Sat, Mar 16, 2013 Larry

What a joke. SES personnel get thousands in bonuses while gs 14 and below may get a meager 100 to 3000. before taxes.based upon performance ..and in many cases SES personell get their bonuses just before xmas while gs 14 and below must wait until May...many will say money does not not motivate...but it sure comes in handy when we have pay most of it all back to uncle sam in annual taxes. At any rate, we are not getting bonuses for 2013 at NIH anyway....right on top of the new increase in payroll tax given us by not extending bush tax cuts...then they dream up this ad hoc telework scheme...so that if the government closes due to bad weather, you either telework from home or use your leave...this way they dont have to give you an excused absence and no leave charged; and then I understand GE, Citigroup, bank of america, and Exon all made billions of profits in 2010 and paid ZERO taxes. Our government is being run by big corporation and the 1 percent,. What a major JOKE on the middle class...lastly voting....everyone knows about the electorial college....our votes don't mean squat! As grow older and older I become so disappointed in America and all the cronism. ..infotainment media - we walter chrokite baxk he would roll over in his grave if he seen how news is reported these days with some joe smoe giving his personal opinion on everything during the daily news....just give the facts,,,keep your opinions to yourself.. it sickening!

Wed, Sep 5, 2012

As usual, Congress seeks to throw the baby out with the bath. I know there are already laws against fraud that can be used against violating GSA employees. But no, rather than insisting that the executive branch inforce existing laws let's pass a bunch of new useless laws that won't be enforced either.

Mon, Aug 6, 2012

I agree with BillJ here but will qualify it a bit higher to just the SESers and Flag Officers. The rest of us have to try and make the mission happen in spite of their meddling. Many I know aren't too bad but they have to make decision based on 50 different recommendations and should probably just let us decide the direction and let them just be the final approval.

Mon, Aug 6, 2012 BillJ

Bonuses to management (GS-15 and above) is what should be targeted for investigation. Those positions actually make policy and allow the type of conferences in question. I see it all to often as a long term fed employee. An individual moves up as high as possible in the govt, but is really ill prepared to take responsibility for their actions at the higher pay grades. Claw back from them, not the GS-14's and down. GS-14 and down are the folks that really make everything work, regardless of how the higher ups muck things up. In industry, the better individuals make it to the top. Not as often in the govt where they can only promote who they have, not who they would like to bring in that might be better qualified.

Fri, Aug 3, 2012 Worthless Federal Employee USA

In response to the earlier message about the "worthless federal employees", I reccomend Steven R Covey's "How to win friends and influence peopl". So you think we are worthless eh? Well, just remember that next time our military takes down another terrorist like Sadam Hussan and his thugs. No, on second thought, think of the worthless fed. employees who quit working for you because someone called them worthless, and a jet blasts into your community and kills thousands of people. Then no worthless fed. employees or soldiers come to your aid because they are worthless. Eat on those thoughts a while. I think federal employees rank right up there with the vast majority of commercial employees with beeing worth their keep. I think the majority are very dedicated, hard working folk who make your life better by what they do in service to all of us. Worthless federal employees? I think not!

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