Federal Executives Afforded $32M in Bonuses Last Year


Federal Executives Afforded $32 Million in Bonuses Last Year

WASHINGTON — As the federal government rounded off its first quarter of deficit spending since 1997, Congress and the Bush administration are eyeing the $32 million in bonuses afforded federal civil service executives during the last year of the Clinton administration.

Bonuses averaging more than $11,000 per executive went to officials in agencies that didn't even meet performance standards, and they totaled nearly 25 percent more than the prior year. Fiscal year 2001 bonuses have not been computed yet.

Some of the larger bonuses have gone to executives at: 

— The Federal Aviation Administration, where 161 civil service executives collected more than $1 million in bonuses even though the agency failed to meet half of its performance goals for the previous budget year;

— The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, where two executives won presidential rank awards worth $10,000 each, even though the agency missed by 14 percentage points a presidential target to increase seat belt use to 85 percent;

— and the Department of Education, where 39 executives got nearly $500,000 in bonuses last year, the highest payout of all the Cabinet agencies despite a General Accounting Office report that said the department provided "no fiscal year 2000 data for many indicators, no discussion of why goals were not met and no strategies on how the department would reach its goals."

The handouts have led the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee to cut the bonus pool for both the FAA and NHTSA until incentive payments to executives are linked to agency performance.

This is the first time Congress has penalized agencies since standards were passed under the 1993 Government Results Performance Act.

Under the law, bonuses of 5 percent to 20 percent of base pay for career government executives are allowed following recommendations by review boards that by law must include a majority of career executives.

Congress exempted the FAA from that law in 1996, after the agency argued it needed more flexibility in hiring and pay.

"Bonuses for government executives should be tied directly to their success at meeting clear and measurable goals," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the transportation panel. "Taxpayers expect results."

That's what Kay James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, wants to deliver. At her office, the number of executives receiving outstanding ratings dropped by two-thirds in 2001. The agency paid 15 percent less in bonuses than it did the previous year, she said.

"It was a huge cultural shift," she said, adding that in the previous year 85 percent of all career government executives got top performance ratings and the accompanying bonus.

But further efforts to link bonuses to achievement could prove difficult, according to the GAO, Congress' investigative arm, which criticized the agencies for failing to provide sufficient information to determine performance results.

Where results were provided, the GAO said goals were not met. Among the least-performing agencies: NHTSA, which came nowhere near its goal of increasing seat belt usage, despite an uptick since 1994.

The FAA failed to meet goals calling for a reduction in air traffic controller operational errors and reducing commercial aviation delays. The agency also failed to meet its goals for reducing runway incursions, increasing airport capacity and limiting aircraft noise exposure.

FAA spokesman William Shumann said the agency did achieve five performance goals in 2000, and the 161 FAA executives who received bonuses achieved 73 percent of the individual and organizational goals that had been set for them at the beginning of the year.

They should not expect bonuses for the 2001 budget year, however. According to Shumann, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said no bonuses will be handed out.

"There are three broad agency goals that apply to all executives: safety, security and system efficiency," Shumann said. "With those goals and what happened in 2001, the administrator felt it wasn't appropriate to make any incentive payments."