Invalid EPA Bonuses Doled Out Like Candy
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The Fiscal Times
May 6, 2014

When it comes to employee bonuses—the government likes to dole them out like lollipops at a child’s birthday party.

Federal performance awards have long drawn scrutiny from auditors who have flagged the abuse and mismanagement of money being doled out at various agencies.

The latest report comes from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General, which found that the agency handed out nearly $500,000 in unauthorized retention bonuses to 11 different employees between 2006 and 2013.

The auditor cites management issues, a lack of internal controls and confusion as reasons the unauthorized bonuses were awarded.

Related: Generous Government Bonuses Get New Scrutiny

In many cases, the bonuses, which were meant to incentivize employees receiving other job opportunities, were never reviewed before being reauthorized. Ten of the bonuses weren’t even recorded.

In one case, an employee received incentive pay four years after it should have been terminated, since he was promoted. By 2013, he received a total of $104,975 in incentive bonuses. The report noted that the employee had since been issued a debt notice for that amount, though it does not specify whether he has paid it or if he plans to contest it.

In another case, an employee, who was only approved to receive a bonus one year, received a total of $77,204 over four years.

The EPA’s IG began the agency-wide probe in the wake of the case of John Beale, the former highest paid EPA official who swindled the agency out of $900,000 in travel expenses and unauthorized bonuses.

Related: How John Beale Swindled the EPA out of $1 Million 

The EPA isn’t alone. Earlier this month, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported that the IRS gave out more than $2.8 million in bonuses between 2010 and 2012 to 2,800 workers who either had workplace conduct issues or had not paid their taxes. 

That report was the inspiration for legislation introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) that would ban bonuses for some federal employees who are delinquent on their taxes or who have serious work conduct issues. 

“Federal employees who have disciplinary problems or who haven’t paid their taxes shouldn’t be getting bonuses,” Ayotte said in a statement.

Similarly, the House approved legislation last week that bans performance-based bonuses for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department.

The VA has been under scrutiny for the past few years for awarding hefty bonuses to its senior executives that have done very little to reduce the agency’s backlog of claims. 

Related: IRS Gives Tax Dodging Workers $3 Million in Bonuses 

The Center for Investigative Reporting first discovered that the VA paid its senior executives $2.8 million in performance bonuses in 2011. That was the same year the backlog of disability claims pending longer than 125 days jumped from 200,000 to 500,000. 

“In response to a rash of media reports documenting how numerous VA senior executives have received sizeable 'performance’ bonuses despite presiding over significant increases in benefits claim backlogs and even preventable veteran deaths, we’ve been asking VA for months to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its performance appraisal system,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Miller (R-FL) said in a statement. “So far, VA leaders have refused, and until we have complete confidence that VA is holding executives accountable — rather than rewarding them — for mistakes, no one should get a performance bonus.” 

Of course, despite the slew of scathing reports, not all bonus programs within the federal government are being abused. In fact, due to a combination of new rules put in place by the administration, as well as budget cuts, bonus pay for federal workers dropped by nearly 50 percent in 2013. 

In total, the government paid $176.6 million in performance bonuses last year, compared to $332 million in 2012, USA Today reported. That total has been steadily declining. In 2011, the government paid out $439 million in bonuses.

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Washington Correspondent Brianna Ehley, based in D.C., covers Congress, government agencies and spending issues, health care, and tax and economic policy for The Fiscal Times.