Legislation Would Make Federal Employee Bonuses Public Information

Should federal employee bonuses be public information? Legislation has been introduced to require them to be published online.

Should performance bonuses handed out to federal employees be public information? One Congressman thinks so and has introduced legislation to make this happen.

Congressman Mark Sanford (R-SC) recently introduced the Federal Employee Bonus Disclosure Act (H.R. 5290), a bill that would make all federal employee bonuses publicly available and would require reports to Congress of the bonuses awarded by agencies.

According to the language of Sanford’s bill, starting with FY 2019, agency heads would be required to submit a report to OPM which lists each performance bonus awarded to an agency employee during the most recent fiscal year along with his or her name and the amount of the bonus. If the bonus is $10,000 or more, the report also has to include a detailed description of why the bonus was awarded and the metrics used to determine that such a bonus was appropriate. This report would then be published online.

Currently, union contracts prohibit release of performance bonuses to the American public, something Sanford says is wrong. He explained his reasoning in a recent editorial, noting that some agencies, such as the IRS, have been found to have given out bonuses to agency employees who had been disciplined for conduct or tax compliance problems.

“Transparency is especially crucial for federal agencies that have failed in the past,” wrote Sanford in an editorial he co-authored with Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of OpenTheBooks.com. They said in the article that the bonus information should be the right of taxpayers to see.

The duo have been leading a charge to get the government to release additional salary data that the Office of Personnel Management has suddenly started to withhold even though it has not done so previously.

The situation has gained a lot of publicity in the last month or so, beginning with an editorial Andrzejewski wrote which brought the situation into the public spotlight. He explained that OpenTheBooks.com has been publishing salary data of federal employees online for 11 years now, but in its most recent request for the data, OPM had eliminated a lot of information that had never been withheld previously.

“For the first time, we found missing information throughout the federal payroll disclosures,” wrote Andrzejewski. In total, he said that OPM withheld 255,000 federal salaries totaling $20 billion, something which he said “harms oversight.”

The situation got the attention of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the Committee’s Chairman, recently sent a letter to OPM seeking information on why OPM seems to have suddenly changed its policy on releasing federal employee salary data. For details, see Lawmakers Want to Know Why OPM is Suddenly Withholding Federal Employee Salary Data.

Sanford said in a statement about the bill:

As a taxpayer, I like to know what I’m paying for, and that’s a sentiment that I often hear from people at home. Accordingly, it’s bothersome and frustrating that federal performance bonuses are undisclosed. Indeed, in fiscal year 2016, less than 25 percent of the $1.5 billion in bonuses were made public, equating to a $1.1 billion tab for one million performance bonuses. In some cases, the payments being withheld are egregious, like, for example, $1.7 million in bonuses to IRS employees despite their record of serious misconduct.

With oversight as one of Congress’s main roles, simply observing a problem is not enough. We have to do something for oversight to mean anything, and making this area of federal spending more transparent is the first step in bringing better accountability to how taxpayer dollars are used.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.