Federal agencies that pay performance awards to employees who have been disciplined for bad behavior are drawing congressional criticism, and with good reason.
After all, performance awards are designed as merit pay to reward good work. Misconduct should generally be a disqualifying factor.
The latest episode comes from the Social Security Administration (SSA), where 240 staffers who had been disciplined for misconduct received a total of $145,000 in performance awards.
The agency’s inspector general correctly observed that giving awards to employees with disciplinary problems undermines the morale of the general workforce.
It also undermines the confidence of the taxpayer.
The SSA responded that those awards represent less than 1 percent of the total amount given.
But that’s not the point. Either performance awards mean something, or they are like giving gold stars to all of the pupils in a classroom, whether they earned them or not.
As Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said, in comments quoted by The Washington Post, “If we want a culture of excellence in the federal workforce, we must penalize bad behavior and reward merit.”
Rep. Chaffetz was responding to an earlier report that big bonuses were given to agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration who had been disciplined for attending “sex parties with prostitutes in Colombia,” according to the Post.
Rep. Chaffetz aptly described those rewards as “a disgrace.” The bonuses are perplexing, but not as much as the fact that those public employees still have federal jobs.
At the SSA, one employee given a $345 bonus had been suspended for 45 days for possessing a weapon and “being rude and discourteous to the public and management,” the Post reported. Another was awarded $600 after being suspended for “making 21 unauthorized transactions on his government credit card” for which the employee owed more than $1,300.
According to the Post, denying the SSA bonuses would have been in violation of the contracts of those employees who are members of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Add that to the reasons why public employee unions are a bad idea for the taxpaying public.
Congress has considered legislation to revoke bonuses to VA employees who were complicit in long waiting periods at VA hospitals across the nation.
The latest reports say that lawmakers should broaden their scope.