Normally, federal employee pensions and child molesters would not be used in the same sentence. Unfortunately, it does happen. Should a federal employee who has been convicted of child abuse be able to still receive a federal employee pension?
Child Abuse and an IHS Doctor
This is one case where this issue received considerable publicity.
Dr. Stanley Patrick Weber was a retired federal employee. He was an Officer in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He worked as a pediatrician at government-run Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals for several decades.
Weber was a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, an organization of uniformed health workers that often follows military conventions. He worked for three decades as a pediatrician at Indian Health Service hospitals, where he was found to have sexually assaulted young boys in his care.
IHS officials and employees subsequently met with leaders of the Blackfeet Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to discuss the case. “I expressed my sincere regret that children were victimized by those entrusted to care for them and have made it absolutely clear that IHS will not tolerate sexual assault and abuse in its facilities,” said the principal deputy director of the agency at that time.
He retired in 2011. He continued to work at the Indian Health Service until 2016. In 2019, he was found guilty of eight counts of child sexual abuse. The US Attorney for South Dakota, Ron Parsons, said after the convictions were declared, “This defendant is the worst kind of predator there is: someone who’s placed in a position of trust — a pediatrician for God’s sake — who abuses that position of trust to rape and sexually assault the children who’ve been entrusted to his care.”
He was sentenced to multiple life sentences. He received the maximum punishment: five life sentences for aggravated sexual abuse and 15-year sentences for his three convictions of sexually abusing minors over a 12-year period in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.
The judge sentenced Weber to serve all eight of his sentences consecutively and with his 18-year sentence for committing similar crimes in Montana to recognize the fact that each victim was harmed by each separate act of abuse.
What About His Federal Employee Pension?
A federal employee will usually receive a federal pension when the retirement provisions have been in place even after being convicted of a crime. Despite being convicted for serious crimes, Stanley Patrick Weber continued to receive a federal employee pension worth $98,285.64 per year, presumably because he was not involved in espionage, treason, or other crimes involving national security.
He could have received as much as $1.8 million while serving up to the 18 years in prison of his initial sentence—not counting the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) applied to federal employee retirement payments.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Weber’s pension payments ended on November 12, 2020. The lag in cutting off his pension still cost about $180,000 before it was cut off. A Public Health Service (PHS) representative said the agency had to wait until Weber was convicted and sentenced before it could take action on denying his pension.
A “board of inquiry” was convened to consider the retirement status of Stanley Weber from the PHS Commissioned Corps. According to a letter sent to Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), “The Corps is requesting to change the characterization of CAPT (ret.) Weber’s service to reflect an ‘other than honorable’ discharge, which would stop him from collecting any entitlements.”
While that process resulted in denying a former federal employee a pension, if he had worked for a different agency, chances are he would have continued to receive his federal employee pension regardless of the crimes that had been committed unless the crimes concerned a national security issue such as treason.
Fallout from Weber Case: Will Federal Employee Pensions be Impacted?
As a result of the Weber case, two Republican members of Congress have introduced a bill to prevent former federal employees convicted of child molestation from receiving a federal employee pension.
Senator Steve Daines of Montana introduced similar bills in 2019 and 2021 that both never became law. Tennessee Congressman Andy Ogles has now introduced the Daines’ bill in the House. The bill was the result of the Stanley Patrick Weber case.
Senator Daines said in a statement, “Even after being convicted of sexually abusing children, Weber was collecting a government pension—this is absurd. It’s past time we pass my bill to fix this flawed system.”
He was also quoted as noting, “It’s ridiculous Weber was able to collect a government pension after being convicted, especially since he was ‘allowed to continue unspeakable abuse of young Montanans for years while IHS turned a blind eye.'”
Tennessee Congressman Andy Ogles was also quoted in the press release: “There are few things more heinous than the sexual abuse of a child, and yet, these crimes often receive a slap on the wrist in comparison to the havoc they wreak on their victims. Under current law, federal employees who are found guilty of molesting children are still able to receive their federal, taxpayer-funded pensions.”
Will This Bill Pass in Congress?
Federal employees have an interest in any proposals that may impact their future retirement income. We can safely presume very few retired federal employees would also be convicted child molesters.
Previous bills on this same subject have been introduced in Congress for the same rationale underlying the current bill. They did not become law.
It is always hard to introduce and pass a new law. A cynic might note that in this case there is an additional reason for Congress not to pass the law: The new restrictions might also apply to former Congressional representatives.
While the Weber case is particularly disturbing and undoubtedly had a negative impact on the lives of many young boys, that may not be enough to arouse the interest of Congress. There do not appear to be any additional reasons to see how this bill would become law when it has not previously passed.