An “outlandish bonus culture” pervades the Department of Veterans Affairs and without any senior manager receiving less than a fully satisfactory performance review last year despite the problems of long waits for patient care and cost overruns for construction projects. That information comes from the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee at a Capitol Hill hearing on June 20th.
Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) said the situation in the VA with bonus payments and performance evaluations “is scandalous, even criminal.” Miller is the Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and concluded that the “quest for monetary gain” led to manipulation of records to conceal long waits for medical care. Miller also stated that “Instead of using bonuses as an award for outstanding work … cash awards are seen as an entitlement and have become irrelevant to quality work product.”
The bonus payments may be coming to an end. As a result of the massive problems being reported in the VA, Congressional negotiators are considering banning bonuses in the agency through fiscal year 2016 as they work to reconcile differences in House and Senate bills. The bills would also allow veterans facing long waits at VA facilities to visit private sector doctors and to expand the VA’s secretary’s authority to fire some in the agency for poor performance.
Gina Farrisee, the VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration defends the bonus payments as essential for the agency to recruit and retain the best talent in the agency. With wait times rigged, some VA employees were able to get bonuses for appearing to meet performance goals for reducing delays in patient care.
Since the VA has been making national headlines recently as a result of the falsification of wait times and paying of bonuses based on data that were inaccurate, FedSmith queried its database of individual federal employee salaries and bonus payments. Total bonuses paid out to employees in the Veterans Health Administration over the past several years are as follows according to the data supplied by the Office of Personnel Management:
- 2011: $52,500,157 for 64,028 employees
- 2012: $27,819,263 for 46,185 employees
- 2013: $27,245,666 for 43,999 employees
The real issue appears not to be that the bonuses were paid to employees but that some of the bonuses were paid based, in part, on data that was purposefully manipulated to reward employees with bonus payments. The situation is amplified by the fact that extra money was being paid to employees for doing a good job while some of America’s veterans were being shortchanged by the agency that is to be providing their care.
Obviously, the entire affair is harmful to our veterans. It is also damaging to the reputation of federal employees at a time when more disparaging information is unwelcome coming on top of national news about wasteful spending at conferences in several agencies, federal employees violating the Hatch Act, and allegations of federal agencies targeting Americans based on their political affiliation. While most federal employees were not involved in these activities, the image of the federal workforce has been harmed and we are likely to see the results in future legislation impacting issues of interest to the federal workforce.