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Pay pitfalls

There is a fascinating story in the WP this morning about bonuses -- specifically bonuses at the Food and Drug Administration.

The story is headlined, FDA's Retention Bonuses Rise to the Top: Critics Say Money Goes to Managers, Not Scientists Coveted by Drug Firms.

Here is how Slate.com's Today's Papers wrapped up the story:

The WP fronts a look at the bonuses that FDA officials have been paid over the last few years as part of a program designed to prevent officials from jumping to the private sector. The cash bonuses have quadrupled since 2002 and lawmakers are complaining that some of these bonuses are going to the highest-paid officials. Although it seems to make sense that those making the most money would also receive the largest bonuses, it is strange that they were awarded at a time when the FDA was under intense criticism. The paper also seems to suggest that many of those who received the largest bonuses have been in government for years and therefore aren't really at risk of moving to the private sector. But, then again, wouldn't their extensive public service make them even more attractive to the private sector?

This is actually a story that I want FCW to do as well. It came out of a recent hearing on the FDA by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's oversight and investigations subcommittee. During that hearing, the story of the day was the closure of several FDA labs. But I heard some clips and I was just fascinated by the whole bonus issue. (And I have to credit the folks over at Federal News Radio, where I heard the excerpts of the hearing... and an interview about them. Unfortunately, I can't find the link to the interview, but... I'll keep searching.)

Here is an interesting excerpt from the WP story:

John R. Dyer, FDA's chief operating officer, said yesterday that while the FDA provided the raw data to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he cannot verify that the tallies made by committee aides are accurate or complete. He said the cash-bonus policy has largely succeeded.

"With these programs, we've been able to recruit better and keep more of the people we need," Dyer said. In 2002, the FDA lost 12 to 13 percent of its employees, while in 2006, with the bonus program in place, it lost 5 percent. Even a few high-profile agency whistle-blowers have received substantial retention bonuses in recent years.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the bonuses, disagreed with the FDA's assessment of its bonuses.

"FDA officials have raided the U.S. Treasury of $10 million a year, not to hire more inspectors or better compensate the field personnel working to protect us from botulism and E. coli, but to award each other $50,000 bonuses," Dingell said. "Given their recent performance, I doubt the taxpayers would agree that FDA management officials deserve an extra dime, much less tens of thousands of dollars."

We'll be taking a look at these bonuses to assess how well they work -- or don't work.

In the editorial that comes out in Monday's issue, FCW says we need a more modern, more agile pay system. Despite union protestations, few would deny that. But this FDA situation provides an interesting case of the pitfalls.

As always, your thoughts are welcome. What works? What doesn't?

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Aug 02, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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