‘Stop Government Abuse Week’ and the Federal Employee

In “Stop Government Abuse Week,” several bills have been considered in the House that would impact federal employees if passed into law.

It is “Stop Government Abuse Week” in the House of Representatives. As the name implies, this applies to legislation that would impact the executive branch of government, largely based on recent events that have made national news and irritated a large number of people. Here is a brief summary of what has transpired during this week.

The Common Sense in Compensation Act (HR 1541) would impact a number of federal employees. This is what the bill says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no discretionary monetary payment may be made to an employee–

(1) during the period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act and ending as of the close of fiscal year 2013; or

(2) during fiscal year 2014 or 2015, to the extent that such payment would cause the total covered compensation of such employee for such fiscal year to exceed 105 percent of the total amount of basic pay payable to such individual (before the application of any step-increase in such fiscal year under section 5336 of title 5, United States Code) for such fiscal year.

The purpose of the bill is to “establish limitations, for fiscal years 2013, 2014, and 2015 on the total amount in awards or other discretionary monetary payments which may be paid to any Federal employee.”

In plain English, the bill would limit bonuses for most federal employees to five percent of their base salary. It would also restrict Senior Executive Employees (SES) bonus payments to no more than one-third of SES employees in any agency. These limitations would only exist while sequestration is in effect. We do not know with certainty how long the sequestration will last but, under the current law that is now in effect, it will last for  10 years.

The limitations in the bill do not apply to bonuses required by collective bargaining agreements but any renewal of existing union contracts would be subject to the 5 percent limitation. This restriction would presumably apply to the Internal Revenue Service which previously agreed to pay bonuses totaling about $70 million to employees in accordance with the National Treasury Employees Union. (See IRS Moves Out to Reverse Agreement on Bonus Payments)

At least part of the reason for the legislation is because, in fiscal year 2010, 75 percent of SES employees received bonuses with an average of $13,081 per person.  In fiscal year 2011, The Federal Aviation Administration provided bonuses at or above $40,000 to 86 employees. And, as noted above, the IRS agreed to pay out about $70 million in bonuses to employees although the agency is now working to rescind this agreement. The intent of the Common Sense in Compensation Act is to curb the handing out of bonuses while thousands of federal employees face furlough-based pay cuts.

House Democrats have blocked the bill, at least temporarily, along with the Citizens Empowerment Act (H.R. 2711) (See Legislation Would Allow Recording of Conversations with Federal Employees) which would allow citizens to record a conversation with federal employees acting in their official capacity without the consent of the employee. Sponsors of the bill note that the right to record conversations with federal officials varies, depending on which state an individual resides.  This bill would eliminate that confusion by enabling a person to record conversations with federal officials without having to request consent from officials who may arbitrarily refuse to provide it.

Bill to Limit Conferences Passed in House

While the bills have been temporarily blocked, they could still pass the House. However, one source that tracks proposed legislation estimates that there is only a 20% chance of these bills being enacted into law.

In other legislative action, the House passed a bill unanimously by voice vote to limit the amount an agency can spend on a single conference at $500,000, unless the agency head determines a more expensive conference is justified. (HR 313) This bill would also cut spending on travel expenses at each agency by 30 percent of the fiscal 2010 level. No doubt, the impetus for this bill may be delivered to the federal workforce courtesy of conferences sponsored by the General Services Administration which made national headlines for a few weeks about the expenses and activities of their agency conferences. The conference was estimated to have cost about $800,000. As noted in Political Reality and Federal Employee Conferences, some of these events can have longer term consequences. This bill is one of the longer term consequences.

The Internal Revenue Service actions that have come to light have also led to new legislation. The Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act (HR 2769) places a moratorium on all conferences at the IRS until the agency has implemented all the recommendations made by its inspector general in a recent report.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration submitted a report in June, 2013 that found that the IRS had spent $49 million on 225 conferences from 2010 through 2012.  This includes a conference held in Anaheim, California in 2010, which reportedly cost the IRS $4.1 million.  The IRS conferences included a Star Trek parody video that has been viewed by a large number of people, many of whom may not have been amused at the antics and money spent—especially in view of high unemployment and records being set for Americans going on to various welfare programs.

These last two bills will not go to the Senate for consideration. It is too early to predict with any accuracy what will happen in the Senate but, in general, the Senate has been unwilling to pass legislation of this nature.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47